Friday, December 13, 2013

We sang

We sang Shosholoza
the day you won
your freedom
was celebrated with dance
ululations rose to
frost-bitten stars

Fresh from the hot springs I
steamed joy like a prayer
until my hair iced over
and I could no longer distinguish
rapture from chill

I secretly took a little
credit for your release - coming
right after a hundred
students marched an empty
stretch of I-25 United 

World against apartheid!

Ever since
though my lens collapsed
the gumboot has tattooed
the beat of protest
in my battles grand
     and small

I still sing Shosholoza
one more voice raised
for justice

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


The Children's Museum here has a special section for the youngest guests. Visitors walk in their sock feet across a floor soft as marshmallows, treading carefully around crawlers and toddlers stumbling around in barely controlled falls. There is a gentleness here, and a thrum of joy from adults still fresh in love with their new roles.

Stylized trees rise from green carpet here, and a creek is worked blue into the floor. Of course, where water "runs" there must be a wooden bridge to cross. The one here is small and flat and marked at the corners by seat-stumps.

Lying down across the bridge, I close my eyes. Hidden in the stumps are speakers, and the slightest movement elicits cascades of recorded giggles and laughter. Over and over again the peals gurgle quietly down the creek, and soon I am grinning. 

My children are now too big for the museum. Still, on blue days, I can close my eyes and my heart lifts with delight at remembered joy.

Sunday, October 6, 2013


“This one?” The demon delicately plucked a porcelain head from the wire box using only the very tips of its claws. Still they scratched thin lines up the dollbaby’s cheek. 

“Yeah. That’s the one.” The lizard demon flicked its tongue out, tasting the air around the head. Both nictitating membranes slid over his eyes with a papery sigh, reflecting his excitement. 

Together they strolled past racks and bins of human toys in various states of dismemberment. “Gremlins brought it in a couple days ago. Real fresh. From their jabber I get the impression that the kid was really attached to it.” The red giant chuckled at his own joke before continuing, “Good choice. Lots of potential there.” At the cash register he rang up the purchase, then gently wrapped the remnant in parchment and tied it with a length of sinew. “That’ll be six bones and two eyes.”

The lizard quickly paid and raced home to relish his purchase. He set it on the kitchen counter while he prepared his supper, stopping to stare and sniff at it every once in a while. He ate slowly, deliberately dragging out the anticipation, and forced himself to clean the kitchen afterward. Finally he took the delicacy into his bedroom.

“Oh, you are going to be a treat, aren’t you? I knew as soon as I found your scent.” He sighed contentedly, growling deep in his chest. Lying on his bed he raised the tiny cranium to his scaly lips and delicately licked. The dry tongue rasped against the empty eye sockets and he groaned. “Oh, oh yes. You are good, little girl.” He licked again, more forcefully, curling the forked tips around the back, probing the holes where a few remnants of silken hair remained. “Mmmmm. So sweet. You are mine, now. Mine.” He growled and bared fangs which he scraped across the gaping neck, chipping the porcelain and swallowing the shards lustily. His excitement grew and he rolled over, slavering his mouth all over the smooth round dollhead, grunting and sucking noisily.

The child’s screams woke her parents. It was her silence that brought them running. 

She was unresponsive in the few days before she died. Nothing brought her back, although sometimes she would writhe and scream and tear out chunks of her own hair. Mostly, though, she just lay with her eyes open and stared like a little porcelain doll.

For the second year I am participating in a month of daily writing prompts in the Nightmare Fuel community of G+. I probably won't write every day, and much will be dreck, but I enjoy the challenge and some of these stories may someday lead to something.

Saturday, October 5, 2013


Boots pendulum across dry hills
kicking up intermittent static
from disturbed grasshoppers

The tang of bar oil hangs
in the still air, blending
with vanilla rising from 
sun-roasted Ponderosas

Leaning into a tangle of
slashed pine I am surrounded
by Christmas. Sap
smears sticky across my arm
each toss of limbs
brings a fresh whiff

Burring chainsaws drown
speech; unnecessary anyway

Later, chunks of peaches
and pineapple soothe parched
throats. One uncle always
brings cookies. Another
has the beer. Every time mom
suggests pot pie
and serves sandwiches

Plastic forks scrape
heavy paper plates while
our outside life is shared
between tasks. Cousins, returned
update each other on career
changes and impending babies

Drenched in sun-raised sweat
filthy with labor
arms sketched with scratches
torn jeans and tattered shirt
I can think of nowhere else
I’d rather be

Friday, October 4, 2013


“Wolves!” The call resonated through the village, echoing from gritty stone walls. Fires flared as sleepy shepherds stirred embers awake, slowly pulling on lambskin vests and loose linen trousers against the predawn chill. Torches soon flared in the streets, drawn to the edge of town by the shouting.

“Wolves!” the cry cascaded down the valley from high stony pastures where the grass was still green despite the fearsome summer drought.

“DAD! DAD! Wolves!” Desperation tinged the voices of the boys. A few fathers shambled into slow trots, chuckling to each other, remembering their first summer in the hills, how every whisper of wind was sinister, and how their own fathers trotted up laughing. They jogged together, friends since that night, pleased with the idea that their own boys would this morning forge the same bond.

“DADDY!” The words shifted into terrified screams that rose inhumanly then skipped, screamed and skipped in a strange repeat. They men glanced and broke into sprints, hearing the voices split and merge and suddenly fail.

“Where? Where are you?” Deep voices splashed and broke against clusters of boulders. They knew exactly where the boys were, but the question came from somewhere inside demanding a response. None came. They ran faster, leaving intermittent frosty clouds of hot breath hanging behind. They ran so fast they almost outpaced the torchlight, until they crested the ridge to the hollow.

It was silent as they shoved aside the thornbush barriers the boys had erected. The men automatically split left and right in search pattern they had learned as boys looking for stray ewes. “Boys! Boys where are you?!” Their voices rose, angry with fear, colliding in desperate cacophony. “BOYS!” They strode through the flock, shoving aside animals that stood petrified. “BOYS!? This isn’t funny! Where are you?”

The searchers returned to the torch bearers, unconsciously wiping slippery sheep muck from their boots as they strode. “Where are they?” “What the hell is going on?” “You’d better get out here RIGHT now!”

Banded together again they turned to look over the quiet flock. Eyes shone back in the dark, fleeces reflecting red in the firelight. Red. Red like blood. They stared at the animals, seeing for the first time the paws. The long muzzles. The wolves — in sheep’s clothing.

For the second year I am participating in a month of daily writing prompts in the Nightmare Fuel community of G+. I probably won't write every day, and much will be dreck, but I enjoy the challenge and some of these stories may someday lead to something.

Double Image

Lily’s eyes drooped, then sprang open. The teacher raised an eyebrow at her, but said nothing. 

It made no sense. She got enough sleep last night, had plenty of water and a good breakfast. Still . . . There was something about the room. There was a faint whine - no, scream - probably from the fluorescents, that made her turn and twist, trying to locate or silence it. The air was dead. Most of the students were perfect: taking notes, paying attention, asking great questions once in a while, but never interrupting the teacher.  Despite all that she just wanted to put her head down on the desk to rest. Just for a minute. Just rest.

She hated the class, hated the teacher. Business Writing for the Future. Hah. More like Sucking the Life Out of Your Writing. But it was required for graduation, and God did she want to graduate. To leave town, ditch her low-end job at the hardware store, go have some sort of an adventure! All she had to do was get through this damn class. She glanced around, bemused by the dull faces so focused on a future as corporate drones.

Her head sank on her chest, bobbed up, then slowly dipped again. Lily leaned forward, laid her arms on the desk, and gently rested her cheek against the cool smooth formica. The teacher watched, smiled faintly, and started toward her.

Screaming, screaming “Wake up! Wake up!” Lily convulsed awake, twisting wildly, completely disoriented. A dozen voices were shouting at her to wake up, but the room was dim and she couldn’t see right. She blinked, then rubbed her eyes as the shouting faded. And then her screaming started.

The teacher touched the sleeping girl’s shoulder. “Lily,” she said gently. “Lily, are you ready to wake up and be a good citizen?” The girl opened her eyes, smiled faintly, then sat straight up, ready to join her classmates.

For the second year I am participating in a month of daily writing prompts in the Nightmare Fuel community of G+. I probably won't write every day, and much will be dreck, but I enjoy the challenge and some of these stories may someday lead to something.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

First Impression

Were I honest
upon first meeting
I would eschew mascara
and don old
jeans, smeared
at the knee with
dirt from a garden
remnants of pine sap

and some sort of
cooking incident

Maybe I’d wear a ballcap
over practical pigtails

Definitely hiking boots

On a cold day flannel
would settle
in soft frumpy folds
around my curves
over a shirt whose
humorous message
expired long before

That sort of honesty
is frowned up
but somehow my dress
always has a splash
of food somewhere
as if my soul has
leaked through this
carefully made-up

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Change of Seasons

Winter approaches
in thousand-foot increments
heralded by mountain-measuring

Snow above ten thousand feet
flounces across peaks
frothy skirts from a period drama
Snow down to eight thousand feet
sends chills trickling down foothills
whispering across sandal-clad toes
athletes stand askew, weather eye
on peaks -- anticipating
fall’s icy end while
the squeals of sprinkler-dashing children
tangle in still-green 
leaves whose veins run red

At six thousand feet
closets are turned inside-
out come jackets and hats
gloves scatter across the floor
like sidewalk leaves
in preparation for
the next 

Saturday, September 28, 2013

At The End

In the midnight of our days
routines will have
fossilized. Fried eggs will grace
every breakfast plate. I’ll refuse
your daily offer of juice

There will be no more
surprises. Politics
will have rasped away our edges
loss rounded your rigid spine
contentment slowed my steps

borrowed or begotten
will make up for cataracts
Through hearing aids
their shouts become tame gurgles

You will climb ladders
unsteadily, whittling
away my endless honey-do list
and read the newspaper aloud
while I knit

Shuffling between the accumulated
ghosts of long lives
we won’t speak much, but

Papery skin will whisper
of old love when
your hand grasps mine
And we peer blindly
into the darkness

from a prompt at Poets of G+

Friday, September 27, 2013

Celestial Choir

I imagine angels

wings like helicopters
thrumming reflected
by a sodden sky

voices rasped by indrawn smoke
exhaustion tempered
with hot coffee

riding four wheeled chargers
that in no way resemble
fiery steeds

peering out from careworn faces
waiting for us to recognize
the divine within

Friday, August 30, 2013

This Wondrous Now

This wondrous now
is time suspended.

You still hold my hand
when we walk to school
though you now look me
straight in the eye.

You laugh at my jokes
            turn to me for advice.
The eyerolling has yet to start.

Sometimes my words
seep out of you.
My guidance
has stuck, somewhere.

I am reassured.

I hold now
fast in wonder
At my lovely boy
nearly a man.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Cemetery Interlude

I went left as my children went
right through the waving
unkempt grass shrouding
bones beside a road in New England.

Stones tilted toward
me gently reminding
that we tread ground once
hallowed by death, if not God.

Roots twined through remains
whose names were long ago
smoothed by rain and blown away
by a kiss of wind.

My little ones galloped over
the silent graves indifferent then
clambered into the truck continuing
our long day’s journey into night.

From a prompt in the Poets of G+ Community, requiring that I use the phrase "Long Day's Journey Into Night"

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Estate Planning

Two dozen graying
cotton pillowcases are
uncloseted for the first
time in twenty-five years
by a woman
Who has grayed as well.

With inexplicable purpose she
          hangs them to dry.

Once inspected they will be
folded along old lines
by creased hands
and tucked away

for good.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

I-95 to Baltimore

We must have been
The very image of
White trash that night
Battered truck
Holes in the knees of
My tattered jeans
I was barefoot

We had an upright piano
A toilet
construction tools
And two hound dogs
In the bed
My feet hung
out the window
to catch the breeze

We were headed
all the way to Vermont
in one long shot
That trip has become family
Legend: the first time we
traveled together

I-95 North was, then,
a wasteland between
DC and Baltimore
where drug smugglers baited
state troopers
in nondescript cars

Which might be why
a thousand cars
had passed the Toyota
sedan on the side of the road

But it was probably
because they were
Six young Black men.

The man who became
my husband pulled over
white knight to the rescue
without thought
to race or peril
I fell a little more in love
watching him cheerfully
offer a lift to the nearest
filling station.

Their astonishment speared
my heart as I squeezed over
to fit four into a
three-person bench seat.
Two for safety:
we could have been
crackers on a joyride
in rural America

We managed.
Me shifting the gear knob
between my knees
while he steered.
They prattled on
about their schooling
and their jobs
as if we needed proof
that they were harmless.

We left them under
sizzling fluorescents
two miles down the road
with a gas can and an
assurance that they’d
be okay from there.

It was just
a kindness between strangers.
The moment sticks in my mind
because I’m still waiting
For that to be true.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Spirit of Words

Poetry is
The essence
Of language
Oceans of words
To a few lines
Not one word
Out of place
Not one extra

Grapes must pass
Beyond juice
Beyond wine
To become brandy
So must writing
Be tended
To achieve poetry

Write a novel
   Cut it to novella
      Slice it to short story
         Pare it to flash fiction

Only then
Can you remove
The chaff
And call it
A poem


Grit-clad glass tunnels
delicate hollows branch
downward through sand
jagged shards that
capture the sky
lightning reflected
in white green black brown glass
just as love
leaves its mark
on our hearts

A fulgurite and a human heart

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Theme Park

I'm at the amusement park on the 4th of July. We came late, The Boy and I, because we are staying for the fireworks. He can handle any ride; I am more selective. My time waiting on benches affords me an unusual opportunity for people watching.

The Boy sits alone in a car on a spinny ride. I once delighted in them as well, but my inner ear has aged to the point of extreme nausea. I see him chattering to himself before the ride begins. A giant grin builds across his face, soaring and whirling above me. This. This is why we came here. He sprints toward me afterward, shouting his joy before racing off to the roller coaster. I overcome my fear and ride with him, eating my stomach as it rises to my throat, breathing deeply afterward. We ride two, then three, and finally I point him to another spinner so I can sit and calm myself. My eyes--and my ears--turn again to the people around me.

The air swirls with the scents of chlorine from the water park, beer, and sunscreen. I hear surges of screams from the thrill rides, mostly drowned by top-forty hits on the piped music. The wave pool surprised me with twenty minutes of lively classical tunes. I may have been the only person to appreciate it; the cheerful gasps and splutters of swimmers were more noticeable.

I remember that it's the 4th of July. Once, when I worked in a grocery store, a woman asked me "I know it's Independence Day, but independence from what?" I like to think I answered kindly, explaining simply the roots of the celebration, but I was young and cruel then. I don't remember what I said. Now I see that same cruelness ripple across the internet, slicing and mocking those who think differently and I strive to set a better example. I often fail.

Right now, though, my heart swells with a universal love of my country and my compatriots. My fellow Americans. The phrase has more meaning here in a small typical theme park. Mixed with the scents of popcorn and corn dogs is the sound of Spanish and African languages I don't recognize. I catch the cadence of Arabic, Korean, Chinese. I watch and see an idealized cross-section of the United States. Women in burkas shepherd their children past white teeny boppers in minute bikinis. Latinos chat with the black families waiting next to them in line. A mulleted white man in a sleeveless tank top, a flag and cross tattooed on his bicep, ushers a lesbian couple and their children into a line ahead of him. It's a tiny courtesy, but the sweetness of it causes a hitch in my breathing.

We are here, all of us, together. There's a harmony of purpose and pleasure. We share the exasperation of parents with over tired children. Adults smile knowingly at the charged flirting of teenagers, who glance sidelong at each other from the safety of their packs. We cross our usual boundaries to comment on the weather, the day, querying each other on where best to see the show. Here, today, we are all the same. We are enjoying a holiday with our families and friends. We all holler with delight at the fireworks shattering the sky above. Whatever our differences, right now, here, we all are Americans.

Monday, July 1, 2013


Dust devils lifted debris and spattered it against the white curvature of the old airplane, scouring fresh glistening scars deep into the aluminum skin. The plane trembled in the gust, remembering trundling across sun-melted tarmac at IQT, wheels clinging to stickyhot macadam, air painfully thin, racing faster and faster, grasping for lift. It remembered sliding sideways toward DCA, buffeted by swirling winds over the Potomac, racing caustic gulls to the runway. It remembered the triumph of thrust overcoming gravity, climbing skyward into deepening cerulean, clouds streaming from the tips of its wings in delicate evaporating vortices.

Elsewhere in the boneyard, carcasses of stripped aircraft shuddered, open fuselages groaning and warping. Moans were pulled from desecrated machines as wind whipped through torn skin, giving voice to the remainders.

The plane remembered flying over a kite festival not far from PEK, sneering at the pitiful “aircraft” bobbing without power in the slightest breeze, tethered to people even further below. With thundering screaming engines it had conquered the sky, chasing the sun and watching the Earth fall away in an endless shining curve.

Thunderheads gathered, sweeping air before them in bursts that swirled into a gale that beat against the old craft. It remembered the kites, dancing on the slightest breeze. It remembered lift. It remembered flying. It quivered, balancing delicately on time-softened tires, and then, ever so slightly, the nose rose. The wind gusted again, harder, pushing. Lifting. The nose rose again, higher. The plane tilted upward, wind caressing its wings, sliding past the scars of amputated engines, flowing over ailerons and stabilizers, elevators and flaps and gifting them with renewed purpose. The plane lifted, reaching. It twisted into the storm, holding steady, waiting, waiting for a cyclone to tear it free again from gravity.

Days later the plane sat, still balanced on rear wheels and tail, nose pointed skyward. It waited. It remembered.

prompted by this video: skyward

Sunday, June 30, 2013


I strayed to your side
of the bed last night.
For a week now I've
only occupied
My half
Of our private square.

I was restless with the heat
And the thrum of the fan
Did not mask the absence
Of your snores.

I felt a little guilty 
stretching out; but
I confess to a certain thrill
As I lay my head
On what should be your pillow.

I am rich with choices
when you are not here.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Sounds Heard on a Friday Summer Night

A/C cranks loud
drowned by wind chimes
that tease in gusts.
Neighbors are drawn out
on stoops and sidewalks
to stare at the sky
with vague desperation
and "storm"
is whispered
with superstitious glances
at a tumbling gray sky.
Thunder rolls.
Sashes squeak upward
to catch every cool breeze.
In the sudden absence of compressors
supper talk leaks
from dining room windows.
Texts trumpet
heralding approaching relief
street by street reporting
drops have fallen!
Impatient rustle of leaves
spatters that dry without witness
follow the advancing line of hopeful
Creaks and rumbles echo across
the sky until the sound 
is dampened by the patter of

written in response to a prompt on G+


Kinnikinick. Fir. Granite.
These are my flesh
my bones.

My blood tumbles like
The stream falling over
Sodden logs where fish
Hide in pools.
The warm vanilla of Ponderosas
Twines with the bite
of pine sap
To make my only scent.

I grew up on stories of pioneers
Who bent iron
And trees to their will.
Their backs rose strong and
straight like the stone towers
That made their homes.

All that's left is the faint
taste of adventure
In recipes made a
hundred times on
the same wood stove 
that still
warms the kitchen.

Saturday, June 22, 2013


There's a constant breeze from the south. The house is surrounded by maples. From my bedroom window I look across the road to see the grand old cottonwood and its companion willow. We recently planted two oak trees whose tops are just rising above the sill. The rustling leaves of each tree sounds different, like instruments in an orchestra, blending into a gentle papery symphony.

A cardinal declares his prowess from a high snag, dropping trills and notes to me like royalty dispensing coins. Robins ignore his conceit, sharing their short melody then swooping between trees to offer it again. Other songs are unfamiliar. I listen with my eyes, trying to spot the artists, as if seeing could improve the glory of calls and responses, songs and conversations.

The dogs gallop past, chasing some elusive, possibly imagined, target. Their passage brings to mind the thunder of the racetrack as the horses pass.

Wherever I am the sound of "MOM!" rises like smoke signals, begging an equally loud response. Our family communicates by echolocation. Some days I choose not to respond. The noise moves trainlike around the property, changing tone as the caller approaches or paces in the wrong direction. When not exasperated I find this secretly amusing.

Cyclists and pedestrians chatter past as they tour the scenic byway that runs before the house, gravel crunching, unaware that I watch them from my window. Stanley-dog's voice has shifted to a slightly lower register. He's a talker, responding to queries with grunts and growls. He delights in raising the alarm, bark rising to a yelp that echoes like a gunshot from the trees, or rolling thunder. The passersby startle, then laugh, at his bravado.

An aluminum ladder clanks. A hammer pounds. My husband's expletives pepper down as he works on yet another repair. He clatters down and sighs with satisfaction to cross another fix off the list.

The compressor on one of the refrigerators is failing. In the morning it squeaks and squeals and breathes frosty mist whenever the door is opened. Afternoons it settles to a gentle mechanical snore. I find it somehow endearing, and put off the craigslist search for a replacement.

I close the windows against the chill, and light a fire. It's quiet enough that I can hear the fluttering of flames in the fireplace, like flags on a windy day. The dogs whimper and trot in their sleep. The children lean on me, and I read to them quietly as the sound of their yawns draws me, too, toward sleep.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bare Cupboards

The cabinets are slowly emptying. The refrigerator contains little more than pickles and condiments. I am washing walls and baseboards in preparation: we leave in a few days to spend the summer away.

It's a splendid opportunity. My husband's family has a traditional summer "camp" in another state which we visit every other summer. There's a lake and sailing and a motorboat. We have a tennis court and a wide array of warped wooden tennis rackets which add a hilarious unpredictability to the game. We've strung a hammock. We have a croquet set. Everyone we know is invited to visit for however long they can. Some do, and there's a delightful confluence of strangers-become-friends eating, playing cards, staying up late drinking and discussing every topic imaginable.

There was a period during which maintenance was sporadic. Leaks developed. Shrubbery became overgrown. Foundations sank. With each visit we make it a little better -- cleaning, repairing, updating. I take before- and after-pictures to document the transformation. Still, we leave with project lists for the next visit, then spend days deciphering what our cryptic notes mean when we begin packing anew.

Packing takes weeks of planning. There are lists and spreadsheets. We make piles in the basement, in the living room, in the garage. Fitting everything into a pickup truck is a jigsaw puzzle made more complicated by the need to save space for four people and two dogs. Over time I've taken less and less. Babies require far more equipment than toddlers and my children are now old enough that they require little more than books and clothes.

Traveling so far away, for so long, requires a paring. A cutting back of wants and needs. At home I have a knife block with ten different viciously sharp knives. There I use two. Five hundred CDs are replaced by a single radio station. Three or four highly recommended novels go into my bag; I leave behind stacks of unread books on my bedside table and dresser. Three pair of shoes cover the entire summer: sneakers, flip flops, and a pair of flats, just in case. Upon my return I will be appalled at the excesses of space and goods in my home, even though I claim to live simply.

I speak enthusiastically about our trip, but there's a hesitation in my heart this year. I believe it's a factor of time and distance. We are not moving, or relocating. That would imply a permanence and sense of purpose. This is a dislocation. Our summer routines will be just the same -- eating, cooking, cleaning, learning, reading, writing, playing, exploring -- but elsewhereSometimes I wake from a dream disoriented, unable to find the lines between realities. The same happens with our summers away. Upon our return the weeks seem dreamlike and our regular lives resume immediately, as if nothing happened.

We leave in four days. We will drive unceasing to Ohio, then collapse for a night before pushing on. I hope to arrive in the daylight. We have, in the past, arrived late and with no electricity. By the light of headlamps we did just enough unwrapping so that we each had a mattress, then collapsed into sleeping bags. Morning light squeezed between gaps in the shutters and we woke to the possibilities our our temporary home. Despite my trepidation this year, whatever time we arrive I will wake to a marvelous dream.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Saddest Superhero

I had to make a report today.

If you work with children you know what that means, and the dread that rises with those words.

A student was sent to me with marks of physical abuse. The child was matter-of-fact. Cheerful, even. The offense, apparently, was lying to the guardian. The consequence was being hit an unknown number of times with a metal-studded belt. The child didn't know how many times because, I was told, it hurt too much to count. This morning the marks were still distinct, like an octopus had wound around the child with cruel suckers. It wasn't some creature from the deep, though. It was a person in a position of trust.

I'm fortunate. We only get a few of these situations each year and some of those are false alarms. Our students are for the most part blessed with healthy, loving, stable homes. I know there are far worse things to witness than the infractions I've seen. Each year every employee in our school district goes through Child Abuse and Neglect training. We dread it. We gripe about how long it takes. We complain about the dull videos and slide presentations. That is true. The deeper truth is we don't want to face the horrors that can be visited on the shining little beings we come to love. 

I spent the morning on the phone with the Department of Health and Human Services. There's a hotline to call, and a form to fill out. I waited on hold for 20 long minutes as other calls were taken before mine. I spent the time wondering just how many reports were being made in one morning. When my call finally was answered I learned that there are eight social workers in the call center, all of whom spend their entire working days listening to stories like mine, or worse. I can't imagine the fortitude of those people. It is, truly, a thankless job.

Making a report is a balancing act. I am by law required to report any suspicion of neglect or abuse or endangerment. It's not always an easy to decide. Having children of my own has made me more far more sympathetic to the difficulties of managing a family. So I wonder: is it really neglectful to leave your ten year old at school long after the bell rings if there are adults around, not actually supervising but still present? If I am completely honest, I must admit to knowing the towering rage that can rise from dealing with an argumentative, self-centered, disrespectful, exhausted, unreasonable child. I have felt the desire to slap my child silly, to yank her after me into a quiet room and force her to do what I want just.this.once without having to reason or cajole or manage. To just make it happen. So far I have swallowed that down and walked away, or found another path. But I understand -- in a horrible visceral way -- why some parents beat their children.

For all its simplicity it's not a light matter, reporting. The lives of parents, as well as children, can be completely disrupted. I've read stories of  adults wrongly accused who spent months fighting to get their children back while their entire social structure dissolved. I would hate to be responsible for that. I worry, too, that I am being culturally insensitive. I've heard people dismiss my discipline style as too touchy-feely granola. Even my own mother has implied that I am not stern enough with my kids. Am I safeguarding the well-being of a child, or imposing my middle-class, small-town, white, bourgeois values on other families?

I fret privately, weighing the distress caused by a call to DHHS against the life-long damage of abuse. I wish Superman or Wonder Woman would swoop in and make everything right. But they don't exist. Today's was an easy decision: there were clear marks and the student repeated the same story to two different adults. So, despite my sorrow, I donned the worn and tattered cape of a very human superhero and made the call.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Bacon and Eggs

Spring is here. The year is winding down. Teachers (and students) are counting how many days we have left before summer break. There's a hopeful listlessness spreading through the school, a strange slow energy of distraction and indifference. Parents feel it, too. Tardiness and absence rates are rising. The sense of purpose that characterized the fall is slipping away as we look forward to next year.

I have felt it this month as well. Instead of getting up to run and make lunches and feed the family I sit on the side of my bed and brush my hair slowly, wilfully ignoring the news broadcast on the radio. The children eat bowls of cereal before I come downstairs and pack vaguely balanced lunches that they don't let me inspect. Our morning routine has evaporated.

All week students have been coming to the office complaining of stomachaches, of being tired, of headaches. An outbreak of strep? Perhaps springtime allergies. I give them water, have them rest for ten minutes, tell them to come back after lunch. They don't. Finally I made the connection and started asking the most important question: did you have breakfast?

No, they said. Didn't have time. I'm learning that lack of time is code for mom's working two jobs or we don't have money for gas or I sleep in the living room and the TV keeps me awake. Spring seems to be a time of transition. Of leaving one crowded home for another. Seeking new. Seeking better. Upsetting the routines and patterns which offered a semblance of stability.

The school offers breakfast free to all students, but when it's a necessity it becomes a point of pride not to go. The hunger doesn't subside, though. So they come to the office. We add ten minutes to the tardy slip and order them to the cafeteria, for which they are secretly grateful. We whisper in the teacher's ear that he didn't have breakfast, and she will slip him a snack mid-morning. In the office we hand out granola bars to tide them over until lunch. We do our best to close the gaps.

I dispense snacks and think about my own lapse. Most every day this year I cooked bacon and scrambled eggs and buttered toast. My family ate together before bustling out to school with no worries other than remembering to bring our lunch boxes. My children and husband are unaware of how blessed we are. As for me, I think I'll get up and prepare breakfast tomorrow. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Climbing Wall

Feeling her fingers slip, Annalee pressed the pads of her left hand deeper into the rock. It did no good. The additional weight scraped off several layers of skin as she fell backwards, toes sliding out of their tiny holds. Her loud “FUCK!” echoed back from the wall and she sat into her sling, webbing creasing her buttocks and groin, rope thrumming in her right ear as it stretched taut.

“Whoa, cowgirl! What’s the rush?” The teasing voice carried up the rope. She looked down at the man belaying her. Shaggy hair was barely contained by a tie-dyed bandanna. His lean face was tanned behind a few days beard. He smiled and she caught a glimpse of white teeth before he reassured her “I gotcha.”

Well duh! she thought. You’re on belay. “Thanks!” she hollered back. Don’t know why I’m climbing with a stranger. Dumb. But he’d done everything right, and the folks at the climbing gym had said they would make good partners. They’d been right so far.
She wiped the blood oozing from her fingers onto her shorts and turned to the face. Securing her toes, she stretched again for a tiny ledge. Her ankles popped as she caught it, easing fingertips over the edge. She could feel every knuckle strain. Finally it felt secure and she lifted her right foot, sliding it up slowly, seeking a hold. There! Turning her toes outward, the soft instep caught as much as possible. Her calf tightened as she slowly shifted weight, tension running up through the knee and into the thigh. She increased the pressure, rising to the right, pulling with fingertips and the ball of her right foot. Her left foot came free and she began, too early, to tap around for a toehold. Suddenly the dust of the ledge above gave way and -- tearing her fingernails to the quick -- she slid down until once again the rope caught her.

“Ah fuck it.” She was quieter this time – disappointed. Leaning backwards she shouted  “I’m not gonna make it.”

“That’s cool. You coming down?”

Duh! “Yeah.” She found her original holds and shouted “Climbing.”

“Climb on.”  The rope immediately slackened, giving her just room to begin moving down. He really was a good belay – just right with the rope, always attentive. Annalee slowly scrambled down. At the bottom she faced him and they exchanged a quick “off belay” “belay off” before she removed her helmet and unclipped her harness. Still looking down she thanked him again. “I’m really glad you do that.”

“What? Catch you?” his tease was gentle. She looked up into a smile and returned it.

“Well, that too. But I mean saying ‘belay off’ and ‘off belay’ when it’s totally obvious.”

He shrugged. “It’s the right thing to do.”

They busied themselves for a few moments rearranging gear and coiling ropes. When everything was just right she yawned and asked, “You ready?”

“I’d like to, if you can stay awake.”

“Might need an anchor, but yeah, I can hold you. Remember, it was your idea to meet at dawn.” She allowed herself to be a little sassy. He could handle it. He started laughing as they worked together to fasten an anchor rope around a nearby rock outcrop. When it was secured Annalee unscrewed the lid of her bottle and gulped down some water before taking a couple bites of gorp.

“Need a break?” he asked as he returned his own bottle to the gearbag.

“Nah, just a little thirsty. We’re good.” She smiled again at him, admiring. He was built for climbing, long and slim with deceptively lean muscles. He pulled off the wrap that held shaggy locks out of his eyes and buckled on a helmet.

“On belay.” He stared directly at her as he spoke. The words were suddenly seductive, challenging.

“Belay on,” she responded in kind, then blinked several times as he turned quickly away from her to the rock face behind him.


“Climb on.” He reached, pulled, and suddenly she was watching a vertical dance as he wove his way steadily up the face. Annalee was astonished at how quickly she had to slide the rope through the brake, feeling him move through the quivering live rope. He climbed with such grace she almost became mesmerized and only a sense of responsibility kept her from gawking. All too soon he was at the top.

“Wow!” she shouted up. He turned and grinned down, pleased at having impressed her.

“Think you can bring me back?”

“Of course!”

He planted his feet and leaned back, away from the wall. “Ready to lower!”

“Lowering!” Annalee did a couple of stuttersteps forward as she took his full weight, but the anchor held fast, and he easily walked backward down the wall as she fed rope through the descender. Soon he was next to her. He walked close, facing her, and quietly said “off belay.”

She found herself leaning in as she replied “belay off.” Her heart pounded. It was a wrench when he turned away to unhook and remove his helmet.

After a quick consult they decided it would still be cool enough for one more ascent after breakfast. They coiled the ropes and gave the gear a quick once over before settling down to eat. They’d brought pretty much the same things: yogurt and apples, peanut butter and bananas. She shared a Danish carefully wrapped in foil as a special treat. Afterward they both smelled of cinnamon and vanilla icing, and she imagined how his lips would taste. They chatted, comparing notes on climbs they’d done before and mutual acquaintances at the climbing gym.

“What do you think about that line?” he pointed to a route thirty feet to the right of where they’d ascended – at least, where he’d ascended – an hour before.
“I dunno.” She was embarrassed to admit that she might not be up to it. Of course, she’d had breakfast and the rock no longer sheltered slippery pockets of dew. But the new climb was definitely harder, maybe a 5.15. It was at the very outer edge of her abilities.

“Come on. You can do it. I’ll go first so you can see the holds.”

Annalee laughed. “Yeah, like my little t-rex arms could reach your holds!”

He made a face, then pushed again. They debated for a while, Annalee feeling increasingly uncomfortable.

“Look,” he said, exasperated, “they put us together because you said you wanted to get better. This will help you get better. And it will be a nice change of pace for me.”
Annalee was stung by the condescension that slipped into his voice. “Okay. Okay! I’ll give it a try. But you saw how I did over here. And I’m gonna be slow.” The explanations bubbled up defensively. She really didn’t want to do this. “How about I belay you, and I’ll try another time?”

“C’mon.” He locked eyes again and she flushed. “You did great the first try. You were probably just hungry. Like you said – it was my idea to come out before dawn.”

She found herself wanting to impress him. “Yeah. You’re right. I’m just. Well. It’s a tough route. I’m not sure I can make it.”

“You can.” He leaned forward, touching his forehead to hers. “Annalee, you can do this.”

“Okay. If you say so. But I probably won’t make. And if by noon I'm blubbering like a baby, I'll be screaming your name and begging you to save me.”

“You promise?” he teased, then relented. “Nothing to worry about, cowgirl. I gotcha.” He smiled radiantly and suddenly grasped her hand. Turning it over, he looked at her raw fingers and scraped knuckles. “You’re a good sport, you know that?” Then he kissed the back of her hand, tickling it with his beard. Her breath hitched. He sprang up and began setting up.

“Okay, okay. Left hand up and a little to the right.” His voice held her up as she reached for the next hold. She gripped and tried to relax. She’d been on the rock for almost two hours, slipping and trying again, slipping and trying again, prodded back each time by the desire to please him. “Right hand straight up about a foot.” Reach, pull, step, lift, stretch. She no longer wanted to get to the anchor.


“What’s wrong, cowgirl?”

“I’m tired. I’m not gonna make it. I need to come down. Take!”

“You can do it. Just try.”

“I AM trying!” Tears of frustration leaked into her voice. “TAKE!” She held her breath, waiting for him to tighten the slack. To take her weight.

“No. I’m not going to help you give up.”


“No. I’m really disappointed in you, Annalee.”

She held fast with her right hand and pulled the left off the rock to stretch out a cramp. Her center shifted and both legs started shuddering. Typewriters. That’s what her mother had called it when that happened. She leaned in again, resting her knees against the rock and slowly stretching out one leg at a time.

“I’m really sorry. But I’m getting cramps and my legs won’t hold me much longer.” Annalee wiped the sweat from where it was collecting in her eyebrows, leaving a bloody chalk line across her forehead. “Please? Take?”

The rope, instead of drawing upward, slipped down past her shoulder.


Annalee tried to turn, but she was stretched too far, spread-eagled against a granite cliff forty-five feet above the forest.

“Adam?” The weight of the rope was pulling it down faster and faster until it sang in her ear.

“I’ll try, Adam. Please! Take? Please? I’ll do my best!”

The fused plastic end of the rope whipped against her cheek, leaving a stinging welt. She automatically slapped her hand to the injury with a gasp, then clutched at the rock when the mass of the rope tugged at her middle, drawing her backwards. Drawing her down.

“Help me! Please Adam, help me!”

The blood on her fingers made them slippery. Annalee gingerly wiped them on her shirt, working her way through a rotation of stretching, fighting the exhaustion and trembling. She reached for handholds, waved her toe against the wall seeking toe holds, imagined climbing blindly down. She was lost. She waited, but knew. She was lost.