P ROMPT THE
T AKING POETRY & PROSE FROM THE CREATIVE CENTER EDITED BY Frank Haberle ART BY Barbara Hohenberg Judith Kalina & Michelle Slater NY W RITERS C OALITION P RESS
Ta k i n g t h e P r o mp t Writing from NY Writers Coalition Workshops at the Creative Center
N Y Writ ers Coa lition P res s S PRING 20 14 3
Copyright ÂŠ 2014 NY Writers Coalition, Inc. ISBN: 978-0-9911174-1-3 Library of Congress Control Number: 2014936444
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED Upon publication, copyright to individual works returns to the authors. Editors: Frank Haberle Layout: Rose Gorman Cover Image: Barbara Hohenberg Interior Images: Michelle Slater, Judith Kalina Taking the Prompt contains writing by the members of the Moving Pen creative writing workshops conducted by NY Writers Coalition at the Creative Center. NY Writers Coalition Press, Inc. 80 Hanson Place, Suite 604 Brooklyn, NY 11217 (718) 398-2883 email@example.com www.nywriterscoalition.org The Creative Center: Arts in Healthcare is a community of patients, survivors, artists, trustees, donors, and friends who are dedicated to bringing creative arts to people living with cancer and other chronic illnesses. Through offering free workshops through a bedside art program in hospitals and hospices throughout the New York area. The Creative center brings the world of art to more than 15,000 participants each year. To learn more about the Creative Center: The Creative Center: Arts in Healthcare 273 Bowery New York, NY 10009 (646) 465-5313 www.thecreativecenter.org
C ONTENTS Introduction Frank Haberle
In answer to Wordsworth’s “Dandelions” Barbara Hohenberg
Grief as a Positive Force Zoe Eiffel
Longing for Snow Michelle Slater
Four-Squared Michelle Slater
Cash & Carry deb Spicciatie
Joy Lori Kent
For Jerry Judith Kalina
Lotus Pond Dwellers Barbara Hohenberg
Here…Now Judith Kalina
Phlox in the City Amaranth Pavis Cline
Quiet & Steady Deb spicciatie
The Edge of Poverty Fran Kotkov
MTA Lori Kent
The Alligator, the Turtle and the Goldfish Crackers Fran Kotkov
Inspired by “The Faery’s Last Dance” Zoe Eiffel
“Turn, Turn, Turn” Diane Keller
The Child and the Dream Judith Kalina
That Thing We Buried Frank Haberle
One incident, two perspectives… Barbara Hohenberg
In the Fluffy Pillowed Evening Michelle Slater
Take the Prompt
Introduction Frank Haberle NYWC Workshop Leader This volume of poetry, stories, and essays is the most recent compilation of work from the writers of the Moving Pen, a group that meets on Monday nights — in rain, sleet and snow — in the upstairs library of University Settlement on Eldridge Street. The title of this collection, Taking the Prompt, comes from the technique we use to bring thoughts and words to paper. As the workshop facilitator, I bring writing prompts in to the group, to select themes that we can focus on for fifteen or twenty minutes. (It is also my job to bring cookies, an assignment I do not take lightly.) We all put our heads down and scribble into our notebooks. We come back to the group, and those who choose to read what they wrote, do so. We support each other by identifying what we liked about the writing. Then, I give a second prompt, and maybe a third, and we do it all over again. Ultimately, it is all about storytelling. Through this process, stories emerge that we carry within — a memory of an old friend, an image of a bird struggling in the ice, or a completely imagined, fictional character. It’s a lot of fun, and it’s heartbreaking, and it’s happy, and it’s sad, and it’s beautiful. It is such a pleasure to come to this group each week and see it happen. In my life, two hours rarely fly by so quickly. Examples of how we work together are well represented here. Barbara’s “In Answer to Wordsworth” and Amaranth’s “Phlox in the City” came from a reading of Wordsworth’s “Dandelions” with a prompt about flowers. Michelle and I both have prose pieces inspired by the snow that comes Continued 9
“shawling out of the ground” in Dylan Thomas’ “Child’s Christmas in Wales.” Fran and deb’s pieces were inspired by a George Orwell quote, from Down and Out in Paris and London. One of Judith’s poems came from the two children with their heads turned in Dorothea Lange’s iconic portrait of a Depression-era mother. One of Lori’s poems draws from a poem by Ezra Pound about the Metro. In this collection, some of the prompts we have used are included at the end of book. From all of us at the Moving Pen, a big thank you goes to the two wonderful non-profit groups that have created this opportunity for us to come together, to participate in this group, and to share our stories: The Creative Center and NY Writers Coalition. February 2014
I n a n sw e r t o Wo r d swo r t h ’s “Dandelions”
Were they your favorite flower? For me, it’s hard to choose a favorite. How can one beauty triumph over others? My lovely, graceful Lilac Lola cannot over-ride my golden boy Tanito with his beaming, Daffy-down-dilly smile; and just think: there will very soon be another contender in the sweepstakes – hidden at the moment, stretching boundaries and leaving marks like retreating tides up on the sand – perhaps this one will be a beach-rose, redolent of salt and tangy in both the nose and on the tongue. Marcelo or Lorena, will you be thorny? When I press you to my bosom will this seal the love I already feel for you, with a gentle drop of hearts’ blood, staining your immaculate innocence with delicate red streaks? Gather all three together, fragrant lilac, gleaming golden trumpets and white red-striped roses. Count yourself blessed to be given such a bounty to enjoy. New York City December 3, 2013
G r i e f a s a Po s i t ive Fo r c e Zoe Eiffel
To lose is to purge, is to cleanse, is to change, is to continue, is to reverse, is to renew, is to free, is to be. Then we see; we understand. We comprehend the Yin and the Yang, the opposing forces, the full, the empty, the with, the without, the haves, the have-nots. And so, ironically, a whole half of life is lost to the one who has lost nothing. The one who has never been bereft has never entirely understood the value of another. To lose now is to gain later – or so we tell ourselves. But when the loss is gigantic, how do we trust enough again to make something good enough to grieve over. That’s the catch of the good of grief.
Longing for Snow Michelle Slater
“If it doesn’t snow, I’ll just die!!” “No, you won’t, drama queen.” “I WILL. I’ll hold my breath all the way to school, turn blue and faint.” She was an intense child. Had been right from the start with a notable birth, coming on early, surprising her poor mother who had been out shopping to catch the January sheet sales, with a violence that got them both rushed off to the hospital in an ambulance with sirens blaring. That sense of the dramatic was a prominent feature of 12
her DNA, and her family was alternately entertained or annoyed by the inclination. But the child couldn’t help it. She was hard-wired for tragedy and comedy, predestined for extremes of feeling. Right now, she desperately wanted snow, Wanted it as if her life depended on it. Snow meant freedom from the oppressive strictures of Catholic grade school, Though she loved learning, and was a voracious reader, she chaffed when forced to sit in one place for too long, to memorize the unmemorable and irrelevant, and to answer like a parrot word-for word by rote, and, worst of all, she harbored ‘sinful’ secret doubts. Snow had been promised all weekend. Now, at 8 PM on Sunday evening, she stared at the bland Winter sky, thick with moist fog — stared out her window, through the cloud cover, toward the sliver of a new moon anchoring her wish, as she drifted off to sleep — sleep, where other worlds waited, spread out over a white on white dreamscape. A herd of deer followed her into the woods. The only sound — their breath, mingled with her own, and the crunch, crunch of frozen ground as they made their way blindly to the animals’ Solstice. A tower of fire surrounded by stones burned at the center of the clearing deep in this sacred forest. There were elves in festive garb, circling arm in arm like the spokes of a wheel. Faeries flitting from bare branch to bare branch, glittered like fireflies. Unidentifiable music filled the air, then came distant bells heralding the approach of St. Nicholas carrying the sun in his back pack. Her alarm bell joined the music. She reluctantly opened her eyes to see white flakes falling, falling right outside her window, They fell relentlessly all of that day, burying the clothesline, the fence, and the furniture, fell right through that longest night, till the whole rude world lay muffled in silence. Continued 13
Mother made pancakes for breakfast, her favorite tomato soup for lunch, and melted cheese on toast for supper. They played â€˜Hooks and Laddersâ€™, and stayed up late singing old tunes. Her sister, who had been delighted by the magic of it all, gazed at her with what seemed like respect for the first time ever.
P H O T O CR EDIT : Michelle Slater
Fo u r - S q u a r e d
Midnight, and she could see her breath through the loose weave of old curtains. There was a shadow there, she thought, glancing toward the light. She pulled the quilt tight, and swung out of bed to pad over there. She pulled the cloth aside...a waxing gibbous moon hung low, illuminating her face reflected there. For a moment she didn’t recognize herself, but the dogs were troubled below, having heard her rise. Concern for them shifted her attention. She slipped into a wool robe and slippers, and hurried down to them. Poor old things,’ she thought, noting the fire was low. They surrounded her, three of them, one small, one medium, and one large mutt....” Strays of my heart,” she teased...and, after putting two more logs in the grate, snuggled into her big old favorite chair, and they scrambled into it too, except for big Jake, who rounded himself into a heap on her feet. There they slept contentedly till morning light. Stepping out into the crisp Winter air, the dogs running ahead, besides and behind her, she made her way to the woodpile to stock up. There..., curled into a perfect sculptural pose in the deep box, a grey tabby lay still sleeping. ‘So you’re the one who woke me seeking shelter...so glad you found it,’ she thought, watching the dogs sniff, then lick, and suddenly become a foursome as though they’d always been so. ‘Four,’ her thoughts ran on, ‘it’s a good number, a very good number, a tidy sort of number, a squared number, and true.’
Cash & Carr y deb Spicciatie
Young, virile, and stoic Eyes front and center As the roar of the flyover passes Leaving behind such utter silence nothing dares stir or move, not even the air now bent in mourning To honor his young broken body or their own broken spirit Their ranks form a perfect line of Blue All paid for by you
Lori Kent In the park, puppies perform ballet for me, then curtsy. The pistachio ice cream cup is bottomless. My back is no longer full of pain and hair wisps sprout into golden tresses. Wrapped as a gift, no day is ordinary.
Fo r Je r r y Judith Kalina
The music is all Latin in my studio and I am painting the songs of shimmering color: red, orange, blue, white. The walls dance and the canvas vibrates. And I ask myself, “How do you know when the painting comes alive, when it catches a spark up beyond your complaints and fears?” You know. He was never afraid. He was a drummer, after all. He had to enter without thought. He had to take a stand. And, in our life together, he rose up, often. Said “this.” Said “not this.” He taught me what the Latin players know: Get the beat, hang on. Nothing fancy. Just stay the course. That’s where the heat rises and the heart moves. It was June between night and day. I washed and combed him, put a pillow under his head. Closed his gypsy eyes and sent him on his way. Yet, he still remains. His touch. His voice. His music. This morning, the paint mixes with the music, finding a new rhythm under my brush as I find a new rhythm in my life. Then, something calls my name, glows and fades through the brightening air. Pink. It will come again. It will come.
L o t u s Po n d D we l l e r s
I wander in the park under my green umbrella Coming across a lovely sight during a lull in the rain. A lotus pond, jammed with man-tall lotus leaves, Standing shoulder to shoulder like commuters in a train, all leaning sideways when a gust of wind shoves through, and misted by the gentle rain that starts up again. Most of the seed pods are bent to the surface of the water. The leaves stand knee high in a green chiffon of tiny seed pearls â€“ the new generation getting ready to sink and set root â€“ and start all over again in their fixed car travelling nowhere but up and back down again, year after year â€“ surrounded by cedars and oleanders and pines and hydrangeas in their panoply of various greens and dark wet browns of trunks and limbs, also waving in the wind. Another human soul contemplates this scene: a bald fellow my age or older in a bright turquoise shirt and camouflage plaid trousers sitting on a rock under a pine, his rainbow brollie hung open from a branch of the pine to shelter him from the mist. He puts his cigarette to his mouth and inhales and watches the lotus leaves and watches me in my tie-dyed blue-green dress, holding my apple green umbrella. Is he as happy to be where he is as I am, inhaling the exhalations of this oasis of lotus leaves enjoying their misty nourishment and exhaling their pleasure for me? 19
P H O T O CR EDIT : Judith Kalina
Did you ever wonder what you were doing and if you were meant to do it or were you meant for something else. Take Ulysses for instance, in Calypso’s bed longing to be home or was he? He was the kind of guy who couldn’t resist stealing other people’s food and bragging about it. Today at twelve thirty the air was not as cold as I thought it would be. Still the ground was wet and I was chilled and hungry. Lisbon was the place I saw the Minotaur not Greece as you’d expect. What is a soul mate and must you have only one? Like a shoe measured for the time before you gave birth, you can’t wear it now. Seventy five and still searching what, after all, is the meaning of life. And how did it become Friday January When it used to be only May?
P h l ox i n t h e C i t y Amaranth Pavis Cline
The pump made its zippering sound. There was no music in the house. This woman never listened to music. I don’t know how she lived that way. The silence and nearness of her passing obliterated my own heartbeat. Though I could see her chest rise and fall, I did not hear her breaths. She coughed- deep throaty, thick coughs- pulling herself up to a full sitting position until she threw up a little. Occasionally I could hear others talking low in the dining room and kitchen. She spoke a few times in a hoarse voice with great difficulty. When I asked her how she liked my wig, she gave a big smile and spoke the difficult word, “beautiful.” “The pain is so bad I want to die.” That was clear as day. I said nothing. I held her hand and cried. She is exactly my age but I think I was with my mother whose hand I did not hold, though I gave her what she needed when she said, “I’ve have enough I’m ready to go.” I let her go, everything unspoken but still understood. This friend smiled at my stories. Three times now, she was unable to press the button on the pump. The pump whined. The sun was going down, and the light stopped coming through the wooden blinds. The glow of the sunset was gone. All tendon, bones and teeth, she sipped water through a straw grasping the cup. She complained about people taking it away. One of the stories I told her was about the phlox. I brought the Phlox from West Virginia. It starts to bloom when the tiger lilies die. Why should my tiger lilies die when I see them blooming along country roads almost all summer long? They are not wild, I think, that is why. My phlox blooms forever and increases year by year. They grow tall 22
through the front yard fence, nodding their heads at passersby. “Beautiful phlox,” a man complimented them one day as I worked in the garden. It made me smile like a kid that he knew their name. Sturdy stems, delicate flowerets. Busting with enthusiasm, they last through August until a fierce rain strips their worn out buds, or stains their petals brown. I bought purple phlox at a nursery – “Tall phlox,” the label assured me, but they did not reach beyond the brick base of the iron fence. They were not wild. They hunkered down embarrassed by the stately white phlox I dug up from the hillside, from my friend’s homestead, in the dreamscape of hollers where horses pastured in summer on the opposite side of the creek.
Quiet & Steady
New York is gridlocked with entrepreneurial desire. Every few feet we see examples of this spirit through store windows that seem works of art. Sometimes going inside can be a disappointment. These are the fleeting speculators New York is known for- the daredevil venturers of fashion, finance, and furtherance. Mixed into this gene pool is another segment of our population, who are not only unsung but unseen if most of us can help it. They’ve enfolded into our clash of culture and language, but not as seamlessly as we would like. If an organized, orderly, and disciplined fusion, then we wouldn’t have to pay any attention. As natives we see them everywhere, and have learned to not see them at all. These are the real courageous of our city. They aren’t pretty, nor sensible. They are the indigent, the crippled, and Continued 23
the mad. Their kind of courage is quiet and steady. Though marred, and scarred, they never show scared. They never give out, for long ago they have fallen in. They are often seen as empty shells, seemingly hallowed out by the everyday business of keeping their balance. Trying to stay warm, and having enough food to get by. This infantry of the impoverished aren’t always homeless but are surely deprived of kith and kiln. Their day by day cantankerous struggle seems to envelope them in a sheathing of contemptuous and iron willed mistrust which keeps them fixed in place for years. They are of all ages, shapes, sizes, and nationalities, each with different degrees of sagacity, many with questionable emotional stability, and most, intensely resourceful. They don’t exactly flourish in the chaos and cacophony that entraps all of us in the boundaries of our city, but they do get their sense of identity, safety, and well being from the same white noise of clatter and bedlam, as the rest of us do. To admit the white-boned truth, the pulsating vibration that threads through the atmosphere of this amazing city doesn’t do so fairly. Its benign attitude about these quiet, steady, and undaunted souls, allows us to think of them as fine and managing. But fine and managing are two different things. Yes, they manage. Their familiar routines show little variation, their quiet and steady courage allows for the continuation of their affairs of the day. In which at the end of, they tuck themselves into that grey area, where their lives are not tidy and any resolution met with indifference. They’ve never mastered the sport of life, at least as we know it. Their quiet and steady courage got them this far, but the dilatory decay of their health and well being will eventually be off warranty. Dislocated, out of synch, out of sorts, and out of step, they will swell the ranks of the disenfranchised. As the rest of us continue to suit up and show up, never making eye contact least we acknowledge that none us are innocent, but responsible in varying degrees. 24
T h e E d g e o f Pove r t y
And there is another feeling that is a great consolation in poverty. I believe everyone who has been hard up has experienced it. I is a feeling of relief, almost of pleasure, at knowing yourself at last genuinely down and out. You have talked so often of going to the dogs – and well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them, and you can stand it. GEORGE ORWell
Down and Out in Paris and London
“It’s not something I would do even if I had the money.” Why, I wonder, did our philosophical discussions of hypothetical situations always involve dollars and cents? As long as we were imagining, why couldn’t we imagine ourselves rich? If not rich, comfortable? If not comfortable, then unaware of price tags? Why did his tagline always have to be “if I had the money,” or some similar phrase? He continued. “I mean, think about it. If you had limitless resources, would you even want to travel to the moon?” We are walking down Carmine Street. There are people all around. Kids, grownups, couples, dogs, all make the night seem hotter than it actually is. The sidewalk itself seems to exhale waves of heat. The atmosphere is heavy. I am feeling sweaty and grumpy. I don’t want to think about limited or limitless resources. As we get to the corner of Bleecker and Carmine, I look up over Father Demo Square, and the moon is glistening full, on the rise up over the few trees and many buildings. I consider his question. In all its glimmering and icy glory, the Continued 25
moon is seductive. Yes, I think, if I had limitless funds, and could be certain of a return trip, I might choose a trip to the moon. Damn, I realize, he’s sucked me in. I’m imagining myself wealthy enough to book a round trip ticket to the moon; I’m opting to go! Why do I engage in these senseless discussions? Do I dare tell him that I would leave the earth and him for a trip to the moon? No, that would take this conversation in a whole other direction. So I answer. “Nah, I’m happy right here on Bleecker Street. Let’s go to the park.” We walk along and I hear coins jingling in his pockets. “Do we have enough money for a cremalatte at Rocco’s? We might. You know they’re not a gyp joint. You could get a lemon ice. I know you like that better. I’ll get a cremalatte. I’ll give you a taste if you want. I definitely want a taste of yours.” “Sure, Baby,” he grins at me. He gives the coins in his pocket an extra jingle. “I’ll get you a cremalatte. I’d even buy you the moon…if I had the money.” I grin too. How can I be mad at that? That’s the kind of poverty I can stand!
M T A
Someone mustached me. I never break the rules. My lonely dog chews furniture and the mayor is watching says the torn movie poster. After work, I’ll catch the big sale I should take a day off soon… until then, lattes keep me going. My small ears hurt but the report is due Tuesday says the scurrying grey mouse. I feel guilty about that Papaya dog. My pantyhose has a run. Cable’s endless channels fill my soul. I’ll get thin this year with Jenny Craig says the crumpled piece of trash. Yoga passed the time. My juicer was expensive. Sadly, I should have danced more Or expressed “I love you.” said the dying cockroach
T h e A l l i g a t o r, t h e Tu r t l e , a n d t h e G o l d f i s h C r a c ke r s Fran Kotkov
“My-els,” I told you not to go there. The ayagayor lives there.” My ears perked up. Hearing her transform his one syllable name into two syllables always delighted me. Now it seemed I was in for an unexpected treat. If I could just pretend not to be listening, I could enter into their twin world. I leaned in toward them, cautiously, trying not to cross the borderline of their awareness. I stacked pebbles and twigs into little piles, focusing on the earth in front of me, hoping to appear unaware of them and their conversation. I wished I could be as invisible to them as their “ayagayor” was to me! “No Sissy. There’s no ayagayor. That’s a tortle.” “My-els, that’s an ayagayor and he can eat you. I can perteck you, My-els.” “No, Sissy. The ayagator won’t eat me. I can feed him my goldfish crackers.” They break into peals of laughter. They are both squatting on totally flattened feet, their little bodies perched on the moist bank of the lake. Water bugs dance on the surface making moving lace patterns. They see alligators and turtles, magical creatures that are beyond my vision. They laugh for several minutes over the goldfish crackers. He is so proud of his joke that he repeats it for her. “Sissy, I can feed him my goldfish crackers.” His bright red hair shimmers in the sun as he takes his snack cup of goldfish crackers and looks in at the few remaining crackers. His joke is just as funny to her the second time and they both crumble into laughter again. Emboldened by her appreciation of his humor, he takes his snack cup and dumps the crackers into the water. Immediately hordes of tiny fish rush to the surface to feast on their own imitations. Miles 28
and Madeline stare in wonder at the cannibalistic water show taking place in front of them. She suddenly has the need to re-establish her air of authority. No, My-els, ayagayors don’t eat fish. They eat boys. I saw it and I know it’s coming to get you. Don’t stay there. You better move away.” She is very convincing. Believing that he might truly be in danger, he decides to take her advice. “Okay, Sissy. Let’s go. How about we eat some goldfish crackers now? Let’s share,” he says, eyeing her mostly full cup hungrily.
Inspired by “ T h e Fa e r y ’s L a s t D a n c e ”
Maybe I knew, before I knew, before I’d ever experienced leave-taking, how connected we feel as the winds of death blow in. Old, withered and cold for me has always been bright, clear and crisp perhaps because I experience heat as death and dullness. So when the cool of autumn comes, I come alive. The dirty little secret is in the face of death life glitters. When the blue sky becomes bluer, the sun’s bright light yellower and the cool winds blow, I exhale with relief, because I know that interlaced with all that comes the feeling of dancing on waves and walking on water (to steal one line and co-opt another). 29
“Turn, Turn, Turn” Diane Keller
Tuesday morning I got out of bed and before making coffee I turned the radio on. It was 8A.M. exactly. The announcer said. “Pete Seeger has died at the age of 94.” Stunned, I just sat there. Then my mind went right to May3, 1989, Pete’s 70th birthday party. My ex-husband, Neal, and my two daughters, Ammi and Emily, were with me in Beacon, N.Y. sitting on chairs in front of the Beacon Sloop Club at their monthly Friday night meeting. There was a nice size group but not overwhelmingly large. That night was special. Pete went around giving cake out, each with a sprinkle of flowers (real flowers), in that humble way that he did things. The evening was cool and the sun was almost ready to go down. The air always smelled so fresh when we went upstate. Then Pete sang “Amazing Grace” accapella for a young woman who died of cancer and had volunteered for Clearwater. He sang it sweet and slow and it was beautiful. After that he taught us a Russian children’s song. It went like this: May there always be sunlight May there always be blue skies May there always be mamma May there always be me We chanted in rounds the simple lyrics for quite a while. Then it was time to drive back to southern Westchester, a good two hours away. I needed to talk to Neal. As soon as he picked up he said, “You know.” “Yes, I was just thinking about his 70th birthday party. Do you remember?” “Oh, of cause I remember.” 30
“It wasn’t long after that I stopped going. I got the job in the city and the girls had all their activities. I couldn’t do it all. But you kept going.” What I didn’t say is that was the beginning of the end for us. “You know he was still doing things.” Neal said. “Pete was suppose to lead a march in Newburgh on Martin Luther King’s birthday but he went to the hospital instead.” Neal sounded emotional, which I knew he would be. Pete was like a gentle father for him, so different from his own father. He was more emotional than me. Crying had been hard for me in the last few years. But then that’s a whole other story. “How did we know about Clearwater and the Revival?” Neal asked. “You read about it in the local newspaper. It was on Father’s Day. We went to see your parents and we were afraid it would be too late to get to Croton Point Park, but I insisted that we try. We made it for the last few songs. After that we were hooked.” “How many years were we involved?” “We volunteered and camped out for the two days of the festival for years. Maybe six years. Before that we were drifting a bit. I was home with the girls and you were working at I.B.M. Clearwater brought us closer as a family.” I touched on our past, which boarded on a taboo subject- our marriage. I quickly changed the subject. I said, “we brought the girls up with idealism, the music, the outdoors. It’s all wrapped up together for me. I remember one October in Beacon, for the Pumpkin Festival. It was a sunny, blue skied day, crisp and clear and we were all singing “Were Have All the Flowers Gone” and then “If I Had a Hammer”. There were a lot of people and it felt like the closest I ever came to a religious experience.” “Yeah, a religious experience.” Neal sounded like he needed to think about that. Then he said. “Do you remember how much Pete loved your cheesecake? You made it a Continued 31
few times for Strawberry Festival.” “Oh, I forgot about that. He did really like it. I set up a children’s area for those festivals. I brought paper and crayons. Ammi sailed on the smaller sloop, the Woody Guthrie, with you, right?” “We went on two trips. She was on the Clearwater as well. She was the youngest person to volunteer on the Clearwater. She was eight. Pete gave permission for her to go.” I could hear the parental pride in his voice. “I guess he got to know her when he taught her the sailor’s knots.” I said, “I’m so glad I took their picture. I also have a photo of Emily playing fiddle with you and the Sloop Singers. Do you believe it she was, like, six or seven years old and playing with adults? We were so lucky. I wonder what the girls remember and if they feel that experience was important in their lives?” Neal reminded me of the day Pete asked for volunteers to help him put up a shed. Neal and I were the only ones who showed up. Half way through, Pete told Neal we did it backwards. We had to start all over again. Then I reminisced about the 1965 concert Pete gave at Hunter College. It ended with everyone in the audience holding hands as we sang “We shall Overcome.” “We’ll talk again soon,” Neal said as he hung up. After our conversation I thought more about those intense years when we were up at Beacon, sometimes weekly. Circumstances changed for us but those years will continue to have great significance for me. Then I remembered that I kept the obituary for Toshi Seeger, Pete’s wife of 70 years, from last July. The article mentioned that Toshi added a verse to Pete’s song “Turn, Turn, Turn.” The words resonated with me. A time to hug, a time to kiss A time to close your eyes and wish.
The Child and the Dream
The commander of the trains is four years old Straddling two lines where they come together and separate, With just a little light like in the mines where you grow blind. She wears her white nightgown Feet so solid and hot they melt the concrete. She says you. She says you to the mommy and daddy. Youâ€™ve been very bad. As punishment you will gather up crumbs on the train tracks. Make it quick; a train is coming. Coming and going The loose nightgown billows around the pointing finger. The wind and the mommy and daddy Climb down. Her high heels clicking. Light and dark are the dreams Flickering with memory and Terror. Waiting for the train. Always Coming but never arriving. 33
T h a t T h i n g We B u r i e d Frank Haberle
In her car I am drunk from the sun of the desert. It’s so clear and so hot here. It rims my eyes in burning silver. “So we’ll head out tomorrow, I can’t wait,” she says. I haven’t seen her in a year and she’s already somewhere else. “I got the tent and everything in the trunk, we can sort it all out later. I’m so fired to get up there, the wildflowers in June.” From this stretch of road I can see the front range, and beyond it the high peaks, a stretched white line through that sun-baked filter. “There’s only one thing,” she adds, “We have to be really, really quiet at my house. My sister isn’t sleeping well. All her energy has left her.” “Your sister?” I ask. “Yes, you remember. I have a sister.” “Her energy?” “Oh, she’s just, it’s just this thing. She had this roommate in Fort Collins, and they had this, like, thing.” “A thing?” “Yeah, they had this serious thing.” Now the heat bakes my forehead. “Yeah, what happened is this: The roommate and my sister had all this bad energy. The roommate said ‘Hey, why don’t we just bury it? And they took it into the forest, and they … they just buried it.” “But what was it?” “What was what?” “What did they bury?” “It was this thing, man. Aren’t you listening?” The mountains disappear under finger clouds, stuffing them into a sack. “I thought I was.” “Maybe I’ll explain it someday,” she sighs. *** 34
In her little house I put my backpack down quiet, by a closed door, by a couch. Music creeps from under a door: ‘How long must my soul rest on fire,’ or something. A voice deep-breaths the beat- “muh, muh, muh.” I enter a little galley kitchen. There’s a dream catcher and a spaghettiheaded Garfield calendar. “I hate Mondays,” the calendar says. Tomorrow is circled on the calendar with an arrow through my name. In the lower right hand corner there’s a drawing of a snake. “No beer,” she whispers, entering the kitchen behind me. “You want a cup of tea?” “Hey, what’s this?” I say, pointing. “Oh, that? That’s a snake.” “Why a snake?” “I don’t know why.” She puts a pot on the stove. “I hate snakes.” “Me too,” I say. “Man, snakes give me the willies.” *** Early the next morning we head up to those mountains. We drive up and up and up this canyon. The sun rises behind us and paints everything red and orange. We climb up into an emerald green forest. Then everything turns crystal-white, like it all just snowed this morning. “I thought we were going to see wildflowers,” I say in the shoveled park service lot. She rummages through her trunk and pulls out a tent, a mess kit, a stove. I grab a bag of food from the front seat. We stuff these things into our packs and go. The trail is wet, snow sinking into puddles of mud under stark clumps of trees. As we climb I try to remember if I dreamed all this, or if I woke to her sister on the edge of my couch last night. She looked like her sister, only older, although she was younger. “Oh look,” the sister said, “here he is again! If it isn’t the return of Glenn Campbell.” “I’m not Glenn Campbell.” Continued 35
“Oh, sure. So why’d you come back here?” “She invited me. We’re just going hiking tomorrow.” “Are you going to mess her head up again?” She made that ‘muh’ sound again. “I didn’t mess her head up. She messed her head up. But we’re all straight now, we’re cool.” “Whatever,” she muh-ed. “We’ll just see about that. I’m going to make a grilled cheese. Do you want a grilled cheese?” “No thanks,” I said, and I fell back asleep. Unless I dreamed the whole thing, in which case I was asleep the whole time. *** Now the trail’s muddy path climbs deeper into the snowpack. The air up here is cold and sweet and stinks, that menthol piney smell. Something is happening as we climb, my lungs, this altitude. It’s like oxygen is sucking itself in and out of my trachea, pulled through an old sock. I have to stop. I stop. She’s up ahead of me, ten paces. She stops in place, without turning. “Takes some getting used to,” she says. But her voice hasn’t changed. She is immune to altitude. I look around at the bowl of darkening air around me. The snow fans out like flower petals towards surrounding cliffs, like the yellowed teeth of a drunk. There’s a cluster of stunted pine trees, far below us now, the treeline. Water pushes down from above, the trail a creek, the snowpack a pond. A cold blast of wind blows up the valley, from where we left her car. It cuts through seams of my cheap parka; it presses my sweat-soaked undershirt to my ribs. I adjust my shoulder straps; this only makes me colder. “How much farther?” I ask. “Right over that pass.” “Was there this much snow when you were here 36
before?” “I’ve never been here before.” “Oh. So how do you know about the wildflowers?” “I just know,” she says. “That’s all.” We start moving again. I focus on her blue backpack. It’s very small. We don’t have enough-enough tent, enough sleeping bag, enough dry clothes. We’ll never get a fire. Everything will soak through, I think. But we keep climbing ahead. The sun slips under the range; the snow turns blue around us. “What do you think?” I say finally, carefully pressing words through chattering teeth. We stand in a black patch of earth, a little cut between the snow banks. The ground is damp here but not soaked; and there’s a dried tangled branch of dead tree sticking out of the snow. I guess I might be able to turn it into a little fire. She turns to look at me. In the fading light she looks crazy, like her sister in the dream. Clumps of ice dangle from her hair, her eyes are wide open and her cheeks are burned red. “This looks okay, I guess,” she drops her pack. “I was going to press on but I guess this is okay.” I unravel and set up the tent, as quickly as I can. I climb out over the snow bank. I break branches off the tree to build a fire. My hands are numb and my ears burn in the wind. I come back to the campsite and I find her in the middle of the clearing. She is digging a large black hole into the earth with a rock. “Oh, great! Is that for a fire?” “No,” she says. And she keeps on digging.
O n e i n c i d e n t , t wo p e r s p e c t ive s . . . Barbara Hohenberg
I. Things turn out differently, don’t they? It’s not exactly that he felt any disappointment about his life. After all, his life story was interesting, even to himself. But things were not as he had pictured them when he was in his teens. He had been looking forward to stardom in the movies. He knew his looks were somewhat unconventional, especially perhaps in the matter of height – stardom rarely came to those who had to step on a box during a clinch with the leading lady, if she happened to be tall. He never would have guessed that his footsteps would lead him into clandestine work for Army intelligence. His entry was fairly easy, once he had a reporting job with the big magazine, and proved he was a good writer, and could make the topic of armaments interesting enough to attract first a publisher for a book on the topic, and then that fellow from the Army who invited him for the secret work. Twenty years shuttling between the Army on Governor’s Island and the magazine’s headquarters on Madison Ave. went by in a flash. But what got him into this reflective phase? It must have been seeing the girl of his teen-age dreams there on the uptown Lexington Avenue Line, who also got off at his 77th St. stop. She had the same glowing, slightly kooky smile she had in her teens, and his heart leapt up, despite his happy union with his current lady friend. Lady friend? No, no, I’m on my way to
propose to the dear lady – we are to be joined if she will have me, and I’m certain she will! But the heart leapt up, didn’t it? The old pain at losing her so long ago is still dormant in you, isn’t it? And there’s no sense in dwelling on that. Nonsense rears its foolish head and must be trampled upon. Well, perhaps for old times’ sake I could meet her for lunch – just once. A better leave taking than the one before, when she cowardly dumped me at her parents’ bidding.
II. Yes, how is it that the love that got away stays with you till time is done? Even when you yourself had put the love away. It matters not that you were young; that older and presumably wiser heads had made that decision for you. You needn’t have acquiesced, eh? Or you could have sneaked back! They would not have known. You were lacking in courage, lacking in conviction; lacking as well in experience, so you must be forgiven. Ah, well, that fish got tossed back into the stream. The next one was wilier – he slipped the hook not once but twice. The third time around he swallowed it and proved a good and happy catch. Nevertheless the mind is a wanderer, it visits those old mistakes from time to time, wonders what might have been, what scenery might have presented itself along that other path, whether the sun was also shining there, and what trees grew beside that road. Did birds sing there, too?
I n t h e F l u f f i n g P i l l ow e d E ve n i n g Michelle Slater
In the fluffing pillowed evening, this falls through the air to land where my fingers find it, note the speck at itâ€™s center, where thoughts about the goose it might have come from enter.
P H O T O CR EDIT : Michelle Slater
Ta ke t h e P r o m p t The art and writing in this collection were inspired by the writing prompts below, among other resources. Take the prompt and see what happens on the page. Read a section of “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” by Dylan Thomas, and write about snow. You awaken from your sleep in the middle of the night. You find yourself in your favorite chair, and your dog is barking wildly in the living room. Pulling her aside, you look out the window, only to see a face staring back at you. Whose face is it? Why are they there? Write about the one that got away using the line And caught a little silver trout… (William Butler Yeats, “The Song of Wandering Aengus”) Free write to the line It was all so strange, so unlike what he had been looking forward to. (Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace)
A ck n ow le d ge m en ts As a small, grassroots organization, NY Writers Coalition relies on the generous support of those dedicated to getting the voices of those who have been silenced heard. Many thanks go to our foundation, government, and corporate supporters, without whom this writing community and publication would not exist: Amazon.com, CreateSpace, the Kalliopeia Foundation, Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. We rely heavily on the support of individual NYWC members and attendees of our annual Write-A-Thon. In addition, members of our Board of Directors have kept this vital, rewarding work going year after year: Jennifer Belle, Louise Crawford, Shaina Feinberg, Marian Fontana, Sandy Huang, Lisa Smith, Cara Tabachnick, Raina Wallens, and NYWC Founder and Executive Director Aaron Zimmerman. Weâ€™d also like to thank Frank Haberle, NYWCâ€™s volunteer workshop leader who was instrumental in making this book happen, and the dedicated contributors and workshop members of the Moving Pen at the Creative Center.
A b o u t N Y Wr i t e r s C o a l i t i o n NY Writers Coalition (NYWC) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that creates opportunities for formerly voiceless members of society to be heard through the art of writing. One of the largest community-based writing organizations in the country, we provide free, unique, and powerful creative writing workshops throughout New York City for people from groups that have been historically deprived of voice in our society, including at-risk, disconnected, and LGBT youth, homeless and formerly homeless people, those who are incarcerated and formerly incarcerated individuals, war veterans, people living with disabilities, cancer, and other major illnesses, immigrants, seniors, and many others. For more information about our work and NY Writers Coalition Press publications visit
W W W . N Y W R I T E R S C OA L I T I O N . O RG .
CONTRIBUTORS Amaranth Pavis Cline Zoe Eiffel Barbara Hohenberg Judith Kalina Diane Keller Lori Kent Fran Kotkov Michelle Slater deb Spicciatie
EDITED BY Frank Haberle
NY Writers Coalition Press is proud to present Taking the Prompt, a collection of poetry and prose written in NY Writers Coalition workshops at the Creative Center. For more publications from NY Writers Coalition Press, visit our online bookstore. WWW . NYWRITERSCOALITION . ORG
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