Poetry of Place by Roselyn Elliott

Poets and writers of fiction and nonfiction write with a sense of specific place in all languages. Once place is introduced in the piece, emotions are evoked, and a lot of things can happen in that place. In poetry, place provides an outer structure and a vehicle to contain and carry a poem into memory, reflection and ideas. Description of place not only offers knowledge of a geographical space, it allows readers into the poet’s intimate experience.

Mountain trail scene
The Trail Public Domain. CC license.

Various theories exist as to why writers use place, including that the poet may seek to write about something outside themselves. Imagination and profound feelings, as well as serious thinking are stimulated by surroundings. If the best poems grow out of a particular experience, then locating them in a literal setting allows the poet to add a balance of metaphorical or figurative devices.

The following poems, two from the nineteenth century, Dover Beach by Matthew Arnold, By the Sea by Emily Dickinson, as well as my own poem, On Goodnow Mountain, are examples of poetry about, or incorporating a clear sense of place. I also recommend poems by Richard Hugo, James Wright, Wendell Berry, Mary Oliver, Ruth Stone, and Joshua Poteat, among others.

Dover Beach
Matthew Arnold

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Dover Beach is one of Arnold’s most famous poems, with the recurring theme of how lonely it is to live and function in the modern world.
……….

By The Sea
Emily Dickinson

I started early, took my dog,
And visited the sea;
The mermaids in the basement
Came out to look at me,

And frigates in the upper floor
Extended hempen hands,
Presuming me to be a mouse
Aground, upon the sands.

But no man moved me till the tide
Went past my simple shoe,
And past my apron and my belt,
And past my bodice too,

And made as he would eat me up
As wholly as a dew
Upon a dandelion’s sleeve —
And then I started too.

And he — he followed close behind;
I felt his silver heel
Upon my ankle, — then my shoes
Would overflow with pearl.

Until we met the solid town,
No man he seemed to know;
And bowing with a mighty look
At me, the sea withdrew.

Beach scene with clouds
The Beach Public Domain. CC license.

Whatever the sea represents in this poem for Dickinson and her readers, a literal fact is that the ocean is a powerful place to be feared. Whether Dickinson actually went to the sea with her dog is not known, but in her poetic mind she did, and she continues to take readers there with her.
……….

On Goodnow Mountain
Roselyn Elliott

The cloud out of which all change emerges
hangs over the peaks for days.
From its spell we seek escape,
naively, up two-miles of trail.
In a stand of old-growth timber,
a yellow birch’s prehistoric fingers
grasp an eight-foot boulder.
My knee scrapes Precambrian granite.
Red Oak surround a simple stone foundation,
all that remains of the first ranger’s cabin.
On a small outcrop the canopy is thin.
We’re resting when a screeching deluge grabs us,
and sprint for a tower built to spot wild fires.
Hand over hand, up sixty feet
on a ladder guy-wired to the mountain’s peak,
we climb into white wind, marble hail, a world,
primeval, howling to be born. Inside
a shelter at the top, shivering on the filament
that holds us to earthly life, we are not equal
to this force. Below the storm relents,
a sparrow flits oblivious toward pine.
Down there, our debts remain. We must descend
more cautiously than we came,
step by step down the wet mountain.

Originally published in BLUELINE, a literary magazine dedicated to the spirit of the Adirondacks, and in Animals Usher Us to Grace, by Roselyn Elliott, poetry chapbook by Finishing Line Press, 2011. All rights reserved.

 

 

Roselyn ElliotRoselyn Elliott is the author of four poetry chapbooks: Ghost of the Eye, 2016, Animals Usher Us to Grace, 2011, At the Center, 2008, and The Separation of Kin, 2006. Her essays and poems have appeared in New Letters, diode, Streetlight Magazine, The Florida Review, BLUELINE, and other publications. She is the poetry editor at Streetlight Magazine, and teaches at The Visual Art Center of Richmond.

Streetlight Art Editor Elizabeth Howard Publishes New Book

Streetlight art editor, Elizabeth Meade Howard, had her book Aging Famously: Follow Those You Admire to Living Long and Well published by Jefferson Park Press on September 10thth. Jane Barnes, author of Falling in Love with Joseph Smith, talks to Howard about her recent publication.

Barnes: Why did you write Aging Famously?

Howard: It was initially a mourning project, sparked by my father’s death. He lived to 90 and had long been my mentor and role model. He had a young spirit to the end. I felt suddenly elevated to family elder and wanted guidance from other older men and women I admired.

Barnes: Who was your most surprising interviewee?

Howard: Walter Cronkite. He was smaller and more vulnerable than I expected, very genial, relaxed and deaf.

Barnes: Most entertaining?

Howard: Carol Channing. Her sandpaper and sugar voice as advertised but an off-the-cuff candor and humor I hadn’t expected.

Barnes: Most interesting?

Howard: Reincarnation researcher Dr. Ian Stevenson. He was a very formal, old school gentleman who spent most of his academic career pursuing a controversial, far-out field.

Barnes: Favorite?

Howard: Photographer Gordon Parks. I admired his work and had tried to interview him several times. He was cosy and quiet, fun and flirtatious.

Barnes: Most inspiring?

Howard: Perhaps poet Stanley Kunitz who at 99 still welcomed me into his home and gave me his time and attention. I wept in the elevator after leaving knowing I’d been in a remarkable presence and would not see him again.

Barnes: How did you get to these famous people?

Howard: By being obnoxious…following every lead, however pushy…whether asking filmmaker Jean Bach to call her friend Bobby Short, or wangling backstage to corner Nanette Fabray or Hal Holbrook.

Barnes: What qualities help people age best?

Howard: People who slowed down but never broke stride. They continued their passions or explored new ones, even as their health declined. They had purpose and they were willing to risk competition and failure to pursue their interests.

Although to me, some seem to be taking inordinate risks, they likely did not feel it risky to them…They kept their focus and drive against loss and loneliness. They were used to being famous. They’d always been in the limelight and couldn’t imagine failing. Even if they did fail, they kept on. They took risks in retirement because they still expected them to pay off.

Barnes: Whose advice was the best?

Howard: Stanley Kunitz said “poetry is as good a medication as many for keeping one’s senses alive. And not only the mind, the senses, affections. It’s very important to feel one’s self a part of the world you live in, and to care about others as well as your own being.”

 

 

Elizabeth Howard will read from her book at Charlottesville’s New Dominion Bookshop on September 15 and the Senior Center on September 22nd.

Click here for recent interview with C-ville Weekly.

Sitting Out by David Roach

I am but a mouthful of sweet air – W.B. Yeats

I take special pleasure in sitting outdoors. There’s displeasure, too, in the form of bugs and mercurial weather that I can’t control, but mostly I take pleasure. The smells, the sounds, the constant dramas played out in the flight of birds, bees, and butterflies, the feel of the grass on my bare feet and the breeze on my skin—they all combine to make life outdoors feel richer and more immediate.

Outdoors, food tastes better. Maybe it’s the relaxed atmosphere around the picnic table or blanket: no need to worry about which utensil to use, often you can eat with your hands. And the water beads that form on the glass in the humid air make drinks seem colder and more refreshing.

Some of the pleasure comes from memories. I remember childhood car trips I took with my parents. Then, there were no interstates, no rest areas. Dad would just pull off at a shady spot along the road and Mom would lay out the picnic blanket, open the Scotch Kooler, and hand out sandwiches and cold drinks. Then we’d pack up and hit the road again, Dad eager to make time. When I was a little boy, Mom would pack up a picnic lunch and we’d walk to a nearby park on summer days. I’d wade in the creek, turning over rocks looking for crawdaddies, play on the swings, or lie on the blanket, drowsing, while Mom read me a story. At home, we’d have dinner on the screened porch, my parents relaxed and jovial, me eager to be excused to go play with my friends or chase down the Good Humor man.

picnic table on bank by lake
Wolverine Lake Picnic by Cecil Sanders. CC license.

Other times, the picnic was the destination. We’d go to the park or down to the river, sit at a picnic table, and eat fried chicken and potato salad. Or we’d go visit my Grandmother. Her house had a long, covered porch with heavy wicker rocking chairs. Sometimes we’d sit in them and rock, sucking on popsicles, but most of our time outdoors was spent running around, climbing trees, or swinging on the old rope-and-wood swing in the front yard. The best times were the Fourth of July, when all of my cousins were there; everyone young and old sat on blankets in the yard as my uncles and my Dad set off fireworks: roman candles, rainbow cones, and the grand finale, a pinwheel.

I’m old now, Mom, Dad, and Grandmother long gone, but I still love being outside. I sit in the shade with my cousins and friends, watching the children play or splash in the creek. The talk is light and skittered. I am, for once, relaxed.

Alone on my porch, I sit and watch deer graze across the yard and hummingbirds fight over the feeder. I hear birds chatter in the trees, crickets chirp in the woods, a dog bark in the distance. The sun is hot and sharp, but there is comfort in the shade. The breeze feels cool against my skin, whisking away my sweat. After sunset, bats glide silently back and forth, almost too fast to be seen. It’s peaceful, and I delight in nature’s show. I think I’ll go get a beer.

 

author David RoachDavid Roach is an amatuer writer and retired computer systems analyst who lives in Faber, Virginia.

Teetering: Drawings by Howard Skrill

 

painting of Boro Hall
Justice on Boro Hall Brooklyn, oil stick, oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and colored pencil on 14” x 17,” ©2016

 

I wander through urban places, mostly near my home in Brooklyn, New York, rolling a Whole Foods cart jammed with a collapsible chair, a bristol pad, pencils, pastels, an easel and canvases. I make images of figurative public statuary, and occasionally their absences. These pictorial essays track the fate of public monuments and explore the inconstancy of public and private memory, particularly when the present, as now, is deeply unhappy or ambivalent with the legacy of its deeded past. This distress can lead to the toppling of public statuary which customarily happens in eras of radical change and social upheaval.

On familiar turf on July 9, 1776, three days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, a crowd gathered in a Lower Manhattan public plaza to listen to a recitation of the Declaration. In protest, the Sons of Liberty then pulled down an equestrian statue of King George III.

Toppling monuments and statues in public squares customarily happens in eras of radical change where competing groups often engage in pitched battles for control of centrally located public places.

 

europe-americacustomshouse2015
The Absence of the Equestrian Statue of George III Bowling Green, oil stick, oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 14” x 17,” ©2016

 

civ5-17-1
The Triumph of Civic Virtue over Unrighteousness Brooklyn, oil stick, oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and colored pencil on 14” x 17,” ©2016 The Triumph of Civic Virtue over Unrighteousness, Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn oil stick, oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and colored pencil on canvas, 24” x 28”, 2017

 

The Triumph of Civic Virtue over Unrighteousnss was originally installed in 1922 in an enormous fountain in Manhattan’s City Hall Park. It was evicted to Kew Gardens, Queens due to objections from New York City leaders including Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia. He referred to the statue as ‘fat boy,’ objecting to having to stare at its bottom. Women, after achieving suffrage in 1922, objected to the depiction of a sword wielding male virtue triumphing over unrighteousness represented as two nude sea nymphs writhing at the statue’s feet.

Civic Virtue was evicted a second time to Brooklyn’s Green-Wood cemetery in 2012 after protests by latter day feminists aided by former Congressman Anthony Weiner. The battle left a ruined fountain now concealed behind a barrier while being transformed into a monument to the achievements of women.

 

snowdonbust2016-4
Edward Snowdon oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 14” x 17,” ©2015

 

plinth-2-9-2017
Empty Plinth for bust of Edward Snowdon Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn,oil pastel on paper, 14 x 17,” ©2015.

In 2015, renegade artists installed a bronze portrait bust of Edward Snowdon in Brooklyn’s Fort Greene Park. The statue was quickly removed by the New York City Parks department as an unauthorized installation. It was in police custody until released to the artists after they paid a small fine. The bust was drawn at an artist’s home, and  was later displayed at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

In 2017 we’ve witnessed the inauguration to the presidency of the United States of the Piped Piper of American Decline who claims that he will return America to greatness by reinforcing the teetering power of the historically dominate group that elevated him.

In mid-August, heavily armed individuals descended on Charlottesville, Virginia and its Emancipation Park to protest the impending removal of equestrian statues of General Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. The protestors left carnage and murder in their wake.

A self-proclaimed heir to the legacy of the Sons of Liberty crashed his car into a crowd of supporters and counter protestors of the removal of the Lee statue. A young woman died and numerous others were injured.

The Piper added his voice to the supporters of the Lee statue still standing in Emancipation Park. He apparently views the statue as representing American greatness that he sees as currently lacking, and those who converged on Charlottesville in support of the statue as contributing to his efforts to restore that greatness. Long dominant groups often resist their fall from power as they attempted to do with the elevation of the Piper to leadership in the United States and in their defense of the Lee and Jackson statues.

Charlottesville’s aftermath has witnessed Confederate monuments being toppled nationwide by civic authorities and protestors. Removal of public monuments is the outcome of decades of alienation by previously disenfranchised groups that ultimately ascend to power and thus gain control of public spaces. Removals are often cathartic outpourings of repressed emotions by these traditionally disenfranchised groups but invariably result in a backlash as witnessed in Charlottesville.

Other figures now balance on narrow ledges that push them towards God as they gaze down, often resisting gale force winds swirling around them. Triumphantly ascendant and hovering over us, they appear fragile and delicate while enduring and imperious. Subsequent to the Charlottesville events, it is easy to envision them as not just teetering, but toppling.

Portrait bust of General Robert E. Lee oil and paste on paper, 14×17,” c2015

 

 

As a direct consequence of the deaths and injuries in Charlottesville, this portrait bust of Robert E. Lee and one of Stonewall Jackson were removed from the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, an outdoor sculpture gallery on the grounds of Bronx Community College in the Bronx. Two more empty plinths are very spooky.

 

 

confederatesoldier2015-2-4-17
Confederate Soldier on High Column Greenville, S. C. oil stick, oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 14” x 17,” ©2015.

 

 

 

 

A Confederate soldier still stands—or teeters—at attention with a rifle’s muzzle pressed against his body on the capital of a tall, thin column as he guards the entrance to a cemetery of many confederate war dead in Greenville, South Carolina.

 

.

 

 

 

gap-3-2-10-2017
Victory on the Soldiers and Sailors Arch Grand Army Plaza Brooklyn, oil stick, oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 14” x 17”, ©2016

 

 

 

The winged chariot of Victory carrying laurels, alights on the summit of the massive Soldiers and Sailors Arch celebrating Union victory in the Civil War.

 

 

 

 

 

 

washingfedplaza6-30-17
Angel on High Column Green-Wood Cemetery, oil stick, oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and  colored pencil on paper, 14” x 17,” ©2017

 

 

 

 

An angel balances precariously on the top of an enormous, narrow and fluted white column in Green-Wood amongst the bare trees of a late winter’s day.

woodonmaus2016-2-20-2017
Wood on Tomb Green-Wood, oil stick, oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and colored pencil on paper,  14” x 17,” ©2016

An effigy of a mustached man in a fine waistcoat stares downward from the peak of his mausoleum in Green-Wood flanked by autumn’s changing leaves.

cityhallcupola2016-2-4-2017
Justice on City Hall Manhattan, oil stick, oil pastel, chalk pastel, graphite and colored pencil on paper, 14” x 17,” ©2016

 

And, Blind Justice stands at the summit of enormous cupola of New York City Hall.

The protracted struggles that Charlottesville and its aftermath have unleashed can lead to ruin extending far beyond the sudden absence of a figure on horseback in a public square. These battles often result in the disappearance of the square itself, places that once surrounded the square and people who had once occupied its shadow. This loss is useful to consider as one observes public monuments teetering and now suddenly toppling.

 

 

author Howard Skrill

 

Howard Skrill is an artist, and art professor at St. Francis College and Essex College in Newark, NJ. He lives with his wife and one of his two adult sons in Brooklyn. His work has exhibited from St. Francis College, Bronx Community College, the Boston Graduate School of Psychoanalysis, Wheaton College and Holy Family University. He has also shown at the Safe-T gallery and the Kumon pop up space in Brooklyn and Chashama in Manhattan. His pictorial essays and other works have appeared in Newfound: Art and Place, Red Savina Review, Assisi, the Columbia Journal, Average Art [UK), and pending publication in War, Literature and the Arts and Districtlit.Click here for Skrill’s blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Have; Home by Benjamin Harnett

I Have

 

I have never been so tired in my whole life.
The mountains run across
the river—pointing
like a knife. Forlorn
boathouses perched out on rotting piers.
Empty lots of naked scrub.
A water tower.
A column of fire.
The lattice of clouds make
sparkling fishmouth,
the intervening atmosphere,
twinkling distant lights.
Crepuscular, this stand of trees.
In my hands, a paperback—
its yellowing leaves.
Everything I have
and everything
I need.

 

Home

 

It may not be as surprising to you
as it was surprising to me
to learn that a bird makes no home.

I often think of them out in the rain.
This is my home. There is dust
in the corners. A hole in the sheetrock

I have to fill, then sand, then paint.
We bought some furniture
for the porch, but it’s too cold out

now to use. A dog likes to sleep
surrounded on three sides.
Then I recall, for a bird,

the sky is solid—a bird’s house
is larger than mine. We built
a fire in the yard, and drank beers

the night our cat died. My coat
reeks of smoking pine. Fire is
the soul of the wood, raveling

back into the air, the trunk,
the living built to house itself
over time. A tree is its own house,

and a bird’s, and mine.


Benjamin Harnett
Benjamin Harnett is a historian, fiction writer, poet, and digital engineer. His works have appeared recently in Pithead Chapel, Brooklyn Quarterly, Moon City Review, and Tahoma Literary Review. His story “Delivery” was chosen as Longform’s Story of the Week. He holds an MA in Classics from Columbia University and in 2005 co-founded the fashion brand Hayden-Harnett. He lives in Beacon, NY with his wife Toni and their pets. He can be found most days on Twitter: @benharnett. He works for The New York Times.

Featured image: Memory of a Tree (2) by Noluck at flikr.com. CC license.

Ernestine Goes to Heaven by Susan Heeger

Basset Hound chasing after a ball
ILeroy by Justin Beckley. CC license.

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies,” the actress Bette Davis famously said, and these words reeled through Muffin’s head as she crammed a pill pocket down the throat of her ancient basset hound. Ernestine was no sissy. Overweight, asthmatic, maybe a little depressed, the dog had the droopy-eyed mournfulness of Davis during the late “Baby Jane” phase of her career. Some of her teeth had fallen out. Her swaybacked body was knobbed with benign tumors the vet said were “evidence of her aging immune system.” She smelled musty, cheesy, like a Brooklyn deli on an August afternoon.

To sympathetic friends, Muffin described Ernestine as “on her last legs.” More specifically, she couldn’t walk, couldn’t lift herself to pee. Muffin had to roll her in a blanket, all seventy-two pounds, and drag her out the door, dribbling. No more did she rouse herself for treats—rawhide twists, ice-cream spoons, provolone. Throughout her life—when abandoned as a puppy behind Carl’s Jr.; when Butch, Muffin’s awful boyfriend, moved in briefly; when a neighbor’s mastiff chewed a hole in her—she had maintained the stoic patience of a reference librarian. Old age had simply worn her out.

“One more, just one more little thing,” Muffin crooned as she chased the pill pocket with vitamins, eyedrops, eardrops, wincing at the dog’s involuntary sigh—the last dog Muffin, pushing seventy-five herself, would ever have.

She tried to be realistic about the future, the day she’d stumble on Ernestine cooling in her nest of pillows. She pictured the food and water bowls gone, the dog smell out of the cushions. She even toured her backyard, seeking Ernestine’s final resting place (under an orange tree, she thought). But while the dog lived, panting and needy, it was hard to feature. Like a dream of her own death.

The vet recommended a “pet grief group,” but Muffin wasn’t a joiner. Her friend Adeline invited her to a spa, knowing she couldn’t leave Ernestine and hinting she should put her in a kennel. Muffin’s own GP, Dr. Spears, a hearty thirty-five-year-old, suggested a cruise, but beyond the Ernestine-alone problem, there was the fatty cruise food, the endless bridge games and the well-known drunkenness of cruisers.

Dog staring out glass door at trees
Rainy Days and Mondays Always Bring Me Down by Robert Terrrell. CC license.

Still, she perused online travel sites and read a book about Bhutan. As Ernestine snored at her feet, Muffin snacked on smoked gouda, scanning pages on “ancient yak trails,” “heart-pounding treks” and the “pulse oximeters and portable altitude chambers” carried by guides in case tour members collapsed. Setting the book down, Muffin rose from her chair and felt pressure ripple like an alimentary tidal wave from her breastbone to one shoulder and down an arm. Her teeth locked unpleasantly.

With an odd detachment between her head and limbs, she found her car keys and drove herself to the hospital where she waited in Emergency with a man whose head bandage bore a round red seep like the sun on a Japanese flag. Three TVs jangled and children ran around knocking into chairs. At last, she was ushered to a curtained bed and a nurse took her temperature, checked her pulse, drew blood and attached electrodes from a rolling cart to her chest. When a handsome intern arrived he said jovially, “Well, Muffin…,” as if her name, cute maybe for a toddler, was a joke at her age. He then explained, enunciating with infuriating slowness, that she most likely had angina. The heart muscle doesn’t get the blood and oxygen it needs, producing pain or feelings of pressure. Had she been eating when it happened? Had she moved from a warm to a cold room and perhaps experienced a strong emotion? With her permission, he wanted to admit her to the hospital for a battery of tests.

Throughout the following day, from different rooms that reeked of alcohol and hand sanitizer, she phoned around, frantic over Ernestine. She kept a key under her doormat, kibble in the kitchen, the pee blanket nearby—it wasn’t much to ask, she didn’t think. But Adeline didn’t answer; Butch’s line was disconnected; and her neighbor’s voicemail said she was gone for the next two weeks.

When Dr. Spears arrived she was so beside herself he ordered her some Lorazepam, in addition to the other L-drugs a cardiologist had prescribed—Lasix, Lopressor, Lotrel, Lipitor. “I don’t take pills,” she murmured, as she had to Dr. Chin, before accepting a cupful.

The next day she got through to the veterinary clinic and a new tech offered to fetch Ernestine and keep her till Muffin’s release. A week later, with a folder full of discharge papers, she drove straight there, in the clothes she’d worn to the hospital. She moved stiffly through the morning air, conscious of her beating heart, her anemia, her high blood pressure and cholesterol. Inside, the burly tech appeared with Ernestine, and after Muffin paid, carried her to the car. There, with the door unlocked, stricken by her dog’s wheeze, Muffin held her arms out. The tech hesitated. At the very moment he said, “Really? Can you?”, she said, “I can’t, I don’t think…,” and sobbed.

Back in the clinic, Ernestine was arranged on a table as the vet brought supplies and explained the drill. Three injections, given gradually, would relax her, make her sleep and stop her heart. Muffin fumbled for her Lorazepam. She stroked her dog’s ears, her droopy eyelids, which twitched but stayed closed. “You’ve been the best girl,” she mumbled guiltily, as Ernestine went limp. Finally, she seemed to say.

More than anything, Muffin knew that she would feel in her hands forever the shape of Ernestine’s head, the soft ears, the hard, heroic brow. And the way she slipped off with her dignity intact.

Leash and collar on a dog matt
Goodbye Riley by tifotter. CC license.

Susan Heeger
Los Angeles writer Susan Heeger has published fiction in Tin House Open Bar, Pinball, the Virginia Quarterly Review, Shenandoah, Good Housekeeping and Brain, Child. Ernestine Goes to Heaven is part of a story collection she’s working on with L.A. illustrator and graphic designer Simon Steiner called Animals Like Us, in which animals help humans solve problems, fall in love, improve their characters and find peace.

Holding Onto Silver by Rich H. Kenney

Man standing on ladder holding painbrush
Man on Ladder by Kit (flickr). CC license.

In the summer of 1960, my father got high and I held the ladder. “All you have to do,” he told me, “is to hold it steady and turn the radio dial when I tell you. Whatever you do…” he said, sternly, “don’t move the ladder. That means no talking to friends, no kicking pebbles, and no daydreaming. Got it?” With that, he scooted up the side of our house to the second story, fresh paint from his bucket splattering and sticking to Silver, his aluminum ladder.

He ascended rungs like a seasoned fire-fighter but, that, he was not; he was a musician and the only sizzle he appreciated was a smoking saxophone. The higher he climbed, the brighter his mood. He was as serene as the breeze pumping his baggy pant legs into parachutes. With a little jazz wafting from the plastic, black and yellow radio, he was back in the saddle again.

Meanwhile, I was holding the horse in the graveled driveway. For hours, I’d stand there, checking my watch, my sunburned fists frozen to a white-hot crossbar. Two things saved me: afternoon ballgames and the older girl next door.

A guy named Gowdy, the Boston Red Sox radio voice on WHDH, thankfully broke the too-much-with-the-tenor-sax hypnosis, his warm twang waking and welcoming me to Fenway. “It’s Red Sox baseball,” he’d say. “Brought to you by the brewers of Narragansett Beer. Hi neighbor, have a ‘Gansett.”

I imagined myself digging in at the plate taking practice swings. Sizing up the southpaw on the mound, I wondered how hard I could drill one into the towering wall, the mighty Green Monster. Daydreaming, though, sometimes meant kicking Silver. “What the hell are you doing down there?” my father snapped, his dripping paintbrush blotching the rungs butterscotch. “For cripes’ sake, don’t move the ladder! Pay attention!”

Girl with a flirtatious look
Flirtatious Girl by Lorena (flickr). CC license.

It was easier to pay attention to Dee, one house away. A seventh grader and three years older than me, she was a blond goddess who walked around on her patio with a bikini and a sparkling tiara. When she smiled at me, a butterfly cloud mushroomed inside, wings brushing my soul.

I remember how she’d turn up the volume on her transistor radio whenever WMEX Radio played that funny song, Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini. The song drove my father crazy, enough so that he would lose his train of thought, spill paint, and mutter, “For cripes’ sake, what the hell is that racket?” Sometimes, he’d dismount Silver altogether, which meant descending the great beast. When grounded, he’d stare at me as if I were the culprit, then cast a suspicious glance toward the McDuffys’ enclosed porch where I knew Dee had taken cover.

Invariably, friends would come by. The day Mickey showed up, my father was mixing a new can of paint in the garage. “Dee smiled at me today,” I said.

“Get out of here!” he said. “She doesn’t even know you’re alive.”

“Does too!”

“Okay, prove it,” he said. “Go over and talk to her.”

“I have to hold the ladder,” I said, lamely.

“Don’t sweat it. I’ll hold the ladder once your old man starts painting. He won’t even know you’re gone.”

Streaks of color on black
Ladder Falling by Dave C (flickr). CC license.

When my father returned to his perch, Mickey appeared from behind a tree and took the reins of Silver. I carefully stepped over the hedges that separated our driveway from the McDuffys’. When I looked up, there was Dee dancing under the sprinkler and smiling at me. I couldn’t believe it. She turned off the water, shook herself dry, and motioned for me to come over.

I looked back at Mickey to make sure he was seeing what I was seeing. When I saw him hopping and hysterically waving at her with both hands, I disappointedly realized Dee was signaling him. Then, I realized something much worse: his hands were nowhere near the ladder.

The sudden wind that swept out of the south that day was a total surprise, especially to Silver which slipped a half-inch behind the high-stepping, wind-milling Mickey.

In slow motion, I saw Mickey hurdling the hedges into the McDuffys’ yard, the look of horror in my father’s eyes, and a rattled crossbar awaiting my grip.

In the summer of 1960, there was Silver, a kid with dreams, and the girl next door with a shiny crown. She made the world spin and the paint splash.

She made the ladder move,

for cripes’ sake…

 

Photo of author Richard KenneyRich H. Kenney, Jr. is a former ladder-holder who grew up in East Braintree, Massachusetts. He teaches social work courses as an associate professor at Chadron State College in Nebraska. His essays and poetry have appeared in Streetlight Magazine, Social Work Today, and Cloudbank.
 
Rich H. Kenney, Jr. is the 3rd place winner of Streetlight Magazine‘s 2017 Essay/Memoir contest.

What I Saw in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017 by Cora Schenberg

At 7:40am, the streets of downtown Charlottesville are eerily quiet. If not for the barricades, it would be hard to believe these streets will soon teem with people: busloads of Nazis come for the Unite the Right rally, and counter-protesters, like us.

Some people told us to stay away this morning. Terry Sullivan, president of the University of Virginia, where I teach in the German Department, urged us not to risk getting caught in the violence. But as a Jewish Germanist, I know too well what happens when you don’t stand up to Nazis.

protesters at Charlottesville rally
protesters at Charlottesville rally

Besides, I promised my son Gabriel that I’ll be there. Gabriel and his girlfriend, Amy, are founding members of the DC-based Socialist Snack Squad, which hands out food and water to demonstrators whose causes they support. The Squad first came to Charlottesville to stand against the KKK on July 8. We spent this past week preparing for today’s event, which everyone says will be bigger and uglier. I took non-violent civil disobedience training, while Gabriel worked with Charlottesville’s clergy collective, Congregate, as well as Black Lives Matter, and other groups, deciding who will be where, doing what.

At 7:45, my husband Wade drops Gabriel, Amy, Amy’s mother Sara Jane, a couple of other friends, a trunkload full of supplies, and me off at McGuffey Park where we set up our tent next to that of the medics. Thanks to donations and our own layouts, we have nine cases of water, as well as mountains of bananas, nectarines, and protein bars. Gabriel hangs up the Snack Squad’s flag, a red banner sporting a black raised fist with a fork in it.

Afterwards we greet friends. A group comes into the park to lead us in anti-racism cheers. At 9:00, there will be services at our synagogue, a few blocks away. Part of me does not want to let Gabriel out of my sight. Another part thinks services will be a sweet beginning to what promises to a chaotic day. Gabriel tells me to go ahead, so I do.

In his talk about the morning’s Torah portion, Alan Zimmerman, president of our congregation, shows how Torah admonishes us not to stand idly by in the face of hatred like that promised by the far-right groups coming to town. After services I meet a colleague, Aniko Bodroghkozy, who wants to attend the counter-protest. She quickly agrees to come back to McGuffey to help the Snack Squad.

On the hill of McGuffey Park, Aniko and I look down at Market St., now filled with Nazis carrying pikes and shields, with counter-demonstrators shouting at them from either side. We watch, speechless, until I see tear gas and grab Aniko’s arm, urging her to run up the hill.

Back at our tent we hear that Nazis have beaten a young black man with a stick, leaving him bleeding from his head. My thoughts turn to the mother of this unknown young man. I feel a compelling need to see my son. When I text Gabriel, he texts back that he’d gone to the synagogue to find me. He and Amy are on their way to Jackson-now-Justice Park with water bottles and snacks. Aniko and I arrange to meet them there with more supplies.

Snack squad holding food and their sign
Socialist Snack Squad

I cannot get to Jackson/Justice Park fast enough. The sun, which was overcast, has now come out strong, making the air close and sticky. People eagerly reach for our water bottles: thank you, thank you, God bless you.

The park is full of people, some all in black, others wearing every color of the rainbow. Some sport Black Lives Matter shirts and buttons, others carry signs saying racism is not welcome here. Under a tree, John D’Earth plays sad, lovely tunes on his trumpet.

In no time, we’ve handed out all our supplies. “Let’s go back to McGuffey and replenish,” Gabriel says. But Aniko notices a table where people are handing out rice and beans.

“I could use some real food,” she says, and I realize I’m hungry, too. Gabriel suggests that Aniko and I eat, then rejoin him and Amy in McGuffey Park. I don’t want to separate, but agree to the plan.

After lunch, Aniko and I detour at the safe space in the Methodist Church, to use the bathroom. No sooner have we stepped into the church parking lot, than a minister yells, “Everybody, get inside! The church is on lockdown!”

A fight has broken out in front. After using the bathroom, Aniko and I wait in the air-conditioned sanctuary for the lockdown to lift. We meet and hug friends, share news. Two therapists I know have come to minister to those traumatized by the day’s events. It feels much later when Aniko and I get back to McGuffey. Gabriel and Amy are absent; friends tell us they went with a large group to Water Street.

Aniko and I pick up more water bottles and snacks to hand out. When we return to our tent, someone tells us a car has driven into a group of counter-protesters on Water Street. I grab my phone and text Gabriel. No response. I text Amy. Nothing. It feels like forever before Sara Jane tells us Amy just texted. She and Gabriel were on the scene and saw the car, but are unharmed and on their way back.

Five minutes later, I throw myself into my son’s arms. I cannot stop crying. I want to hold him forever, keep him safe.

***

protesters at Charlottesville rally
protesters at Charlottesville rally

Time passes slowly in the final hours of our counter-protest. At 3:30, everything seems quiet. I want to break camp, but we hear rumors of drive-by shootings and decide to stay put. Later we will find out the rumors were unfounded. I lie down in the grass, sweaty and shaking, while Gabriel and Amy sit nearby, texting on their cell phones. Sometime later, an exhausted, thirsty group of people comes into the park; we feed and hydrate them. By the time they move on, the medics have packed up their tent, so we follow suit. Before pitching the melting ice and water from our cooler, Gabriel dunks his head in. He says how good it feels, so a bunch of us do the same, encouraged by cheers from the others. It’s so hot, we’ve dried off by the time Wade picks us and our remaining supplies up, along with a couple of comrades who need rides.

In the nonviolent civil disobedience training, we learned our task was twofold: to protect all life and live to fight another day. As we ride home, as grateful I am that my loved ones and I survived this action, I can’t help but shudder at the thought of those who didn’t, especially knowing the fight is not over yet. Richard Spencer and his thugs will be back. We’ll have to stand up to them again and again and again.

 

Author Cora SchenbergCora Schenberg’s essays have been published in Brainchild, the Utne Reader, Streetlight, Full Grown People and read over WVTF radio (NPR Roanoke). Three of her plays were produced in Live Arts Playwrights Lab Summer Shorts Festival. Cora holds a Ph.D. in German literature from UVA, where she currently teaches. She lives in Charlottesville with her husband Wade, three cats, and her son Gabriel when he’s home from college.

Best Intentions by Erika Raskin

My second novel, Best Intentions, is a medical thriller that falls solidly between Write-What-You-Know, a form of untaxing research I heartily recommend, and Write-What-You-Worry-About, a selfless act of spreading alarm.

(You’re welcome.)

Shining a light on important issues while plucking details floating around my house to flesh them out was pretty much my dream project. As a doctor’s wife and a mother of a child with a serious illness, I’ve had an interesting vantage point from which to study our medical system. While I don’t claim to be an expert on the subjects I touch on in the book (it is fiction after all) I am a fairly decent observer of important issues. (Some might say nit-picky.)

(They’d be wrong).

While Marti Trailor, my protagonist, is a hospital social worker who actually finished her graduate degree (I dropped out when I couldn’t find a parking place for the last time), she graciously carries some of the concerns from my own experiences.

Fixable problems top the list.

Trojan horse statue
trojan horse-9526 by Abraxas3d (flickr). CC license.

These include dangerous medical practices like rigid hierarchies where everyone is expected to stay on their own levels, in their own lanes.

(What could possibly go wrong with people being afraid to speak up when, you know, lives might be on the line?)

Interns avoid challenging their resident supervisors, residents kowtow to attending physicians, and nurses—often more seasoned than the newly minted doctors—frequently feel compelled to follow sketchy orders.

An orderly where my daughter gets her care told me that when the sprawling hospital was redesigned, the patient transporters weren’t consulted about the proposed layout. Which means harried low-wage workers now spend egregious amounts of time hustling between far-flung procedure, diagnostic and treatment areas.

The crazy schedule young docs are forced to keep is another chronic system fail that flips out my main character. (And me.) Required eighty-hour weeks result in punch-drunk professionals with prescription pads. Research I did showed that some hospitals have acknowledged the risk posed by exhausted trainees getting behind the wheel after being up for 24-hours — so they put them in cabs to get home.

Um…

(Back when my own spouse was an exhausted intern he slept through a live, foot-stompingly funny Richard Pryor concert—which would just be humorous-slash-sad if he hadn’t been caring for vulnerable patients moments before I picked him up for Date Night.)

Other disturbing themes in the novel have to do with inequality, racism and the devastatingly high cost of being poor in America. Marti works with impoverished mothers crushed by social problems. She understands things that people with money might not –such as how poor moms have to make painful choices all the time. Like having to decide between diapers and food.

(Let’s see…buy Pampers or pick-up dinner for the family? Festering rash or hunger?)

A friend of mine says that art is a Trojan horse for ideas. I agree. It also does quite nicely as a vehicle for a battalion of worries.


img_2602Erika Raskin’s new novel is out with St. Martins Press. She is working on a new one and is the fiction editor of Streetlight Magazine.

Joshua Trees by Carla McGill

Joshua Trees

 

They are repetitive
across the hills for hours,
stillness in the space around them.
As for the sky, one dark cloud
drawn out as if between
two hands and me underneath,
held together by skin, scrutinizing
the world for severity,
for intention, for final episodes.

The other cars seem lost,
but the road is even,
the pavement, newly blackened
and unbroken. Destinations
and departures, resolutions
of the human creature—they all
soar past like blackbirds
and hawks. It is the piercing
alertness of the lizards that stays
with me. I know they are out there,
pausing, watching. They know
that interruption will come.
They know enough
to be suspicious.


Carla McGill
Carla McGill’s work has been published in The Atlanta Review, Shark Reef, Crack the Spine, Common Ground Review, Vending Maching Press, Schuylkill Valley Journal of the Arts, and other literary magazines. Her story, “Thirteen Memories”, featured in The Penman Review, received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train’s MAR/APR 2016 Very Short Fiction Contest. She writes poetry and fiction and lives with her husband in Southern California.

Featured image: Joshua Tree National Park by Christopher Michel @ChrisMichel. CC license.

Streetlight Magazine is the non-profit home for unpublished fiction, poetry, essays, and art that inspires. Submit your work today!