Category Archives: Essay/Memoir Contest Winner

Considering Volcanoes: What Lies Beneath by Mary Alice Hostetter

Black and white photo of large mountain and clouds
 

Mary Alice Hostetter has earned an Honorable Mention in Streetlight’s 2023 Essay/Memoir Contest   There was no real reason for volcanoes and pandemics to become associated in my imagination, but they did. The only actual link was on the first post-pandemic travel my wife and I did to visit family on the West Coast. While there, we went to the Palace of the Legion of Honor to see the exhibit with the less-than-upbeat title, “Last Supper in Pompeii.” It was a celebration of food and drink, with frescoes and kitchen utensils, crockery and furniture, delicate … Continue reading Considering Volcanoes: What Lies Beneath by Mary Alice Hostetter

The Hibiscus by Amy Boyes

Close up of bright red hibiscus flower
 

Amy Boyes has earned an Honorable Mention in Streetlight’s 2023 Essay/Memoir Contest   The hibiscuses arrived in six-inch grower pots. Packed for cold weather in a foil and Styrofoam-lined box, they had journeyed in a transport trailer to my grandmother’s prairie flower shop. “Careful, those are live plants!” Grandma would warn, as if “LIVE PLANTS” emblazed on the cardboard box was an insufficient indication. Deposited on the shop floor, the box remained until a knife or pair of scissors could be fetched. Typically, neither was found and a substitute tool was employed—pruning clippers or even … Continue reading The Hibiscus by Amy Boyes

The Bus Was Late: a Stamford Memory by Jeffrey Coughter

Photo of five school buses side by side
 

Jeffrey Coughter has earned an Honorable Mention in Streetlight’s 2023 Essay/Memoir Contest   On a sunny, breezy late October morning in 1959, I was among a handful of kindergartners waiting for a school bus near the front stoop of Boucher’s, a restaurant at the corner of Long Ridge Road and Stark Place in Stamford, Conn. The bus was late, but we didn’t know how late. We were all five, or nearly five years old, and “time,” when you’re five is not quite the same as when you’re sixty-five. We waited that crisp, autumn morning, as … Continue reading The Bus Was Late: a Stamford Memory by Jeffrey Coughter

The Bridge of Sighs by Martha Wiseman

Martha Wiseman has earned an Honorable Mention in Streetlight’s 2023 Essay/Memoir Contest

 

My mother sighed. Frequently, variously, operatically. She was, after all, a singer, a dramatic soprano.I can barely sing. But I can sigh. All my life I’ve apparently been practicing my mother’s repertoire of sighs. A teacher once told me I sighed more than anyone she’d ever met. She never met my mother.

***

My mother sighed when faced with something she’d prefer not to do (and she preferred not to do a great many things). She sighed when I became, as she might say, obstreperous. She sighed when thinking of her own history. Some of the arias she practiced sounded like sighs to me.

Close up photo of frowning Lego woman with viking hat, long braided hair, and sword
Lego Opera Singer-not happy by Ted Drake. CC license.

Let me catalogue her repertoire. Some sighs began with deep, long inhalations, as if she were sucking in air, the exhalations like descending arpeggios, a soul sinking down. Some entailed a rapid series of brief inhales followed by an extended sequence of outpuffs. Some involved a slow intake of air leading up to a heart-rending moan of Oh, God. Late in the evening, as she settled herself in bed—perhaps with her copy of The Food of Italy—the sighs ranged from melodic to labored and stuttered, an unmistakable song cycle, a summary of another melancholy day, her version, I like to think, of vespers.

***

My mother adored things Italian. She’d lived in Italy, studying opera, the year before I was born. I don’t think she lived in Venice. But perhaps she visited that watery city and crossed the Bridge of Sighs. My mother’s name was Nell, but she preferred to be addressed as Nella.

***

I’ve read that these days, one can enter the Bridge of Sighs only as part of a tour, and only in summer. As the bridge is enclosed and its windows barred, visitors may become overheated and claustrophobic. One would, I suppose, if one were headed to the prison on one side of the bridge.

Ah! Sospiro!

***

My mother may at one time have been in love with a tall Italian man named Gernando. She referred to him as a friend. At some point, I realized I hadn’t heard her mention him in a long time. I asked about him. Her face clouded and she sighed almost angrily and said she never wanted to hear his name again. I could glean only that they’d planned to celebrate New Year’s Eve together and he did not show up and soon married—married someone else, I supposed she meant. My mother never forgave him.

***

I’ve never been to Italy. But if I ever go to Venice, perhaps I’ll walk on the Bridge of Sighs and heave a good sigh for my mother.

***

My mother, despite her Italian leanings, did not like Puccini. I find that I don’t much, either. She loved Mozart, as do I, and he was Austrian. The libretti for most of his operas, however, were in Italian. She found Beethoven too Germanic. But she sang Hugo Wolf, and she was partial to Richard Strauss.

After my mother died, I found a picture postcard of Venice’s iconic opera house, La Fenice, among the few mementos she’d kept.

***

I don’t think my mother knew that Byron’s “Childe Harold” (he just goes on and on, she might have said) is credited with making the bridge famous:

I stood in Venice, on the Bridge of Sighs,
A palace and a prison on each hand:
I saw from out the wave her structures rise
As from the stroke of the enchanter’s wand . . .

The legends attached to the Bridge of Sighs—that convicts crossing over from interrogation in the Doge’s Palace to their place of confinement sighed their last sigh of freedom on this bridge or sighed at their last view of the city; that lovers passing beneath the bridge were guaranteed a never-ending amore, their sighs of contentment breathed upward—are just that, legends, the one historically impossible, the other wishful.

Maybe my mother slid under the Bridge of Sighs in a gondola. Was she with anyone besides the gondolier? Her own wishful thinking—her longing for lasting love, for an operatic life—would have led her to sigh dramatically, trailing her hand through the polluted water.

When she lived in Italy, she was married to my father, but he was not with her. She said she came home because she wanted to have me before she was too old. That wish was fulfilled, at least. The lasting love vanished.

Photo of the bridge of sighs from the water
The Bridge of Sighs by helicon two (flickr.com). CC license.

***

I sigh. The sighs are my mother’s legacy. A bridge between us. Perhaps that is overly symbolic, but the metaphor seems fitting. Straightforward, which our relationship wasn’t.

Sometimes simplicity and straightforwardness are reassuring.

***

I hear myself taking a deep, almost gulping breath. I hear the rough, sorrowful exhalation that follows.

I hear my mother.


Martha G. Wiseman
Martha Graham Wiseman has been an acting student, a dancer, and an editor. She taught English at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., until retiring in 2020. Her essays have appeared in The Georgia Review, Fish Anthology 2021, Ponder Review, Dorothy Parker’s Ashes, Under the Sun, The Santa Ana River Review, The Bookends Review, oranges journal (U.K.), Kestrel, and Map Literary; work is forthcoming from Queen’s Quarterly (Canada). She has also published fiction and poetry.

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My Brother’s Heart by Phyllis Brotherton

Red cut out heart with a white pulse line drawn on it
 

Phyllis Brotherton has earned an Honorable Mention in Streetlight’s 2023 Essay/Memoir Contest   I carry my brother’s heart all the way to Salina, Kans. When we’re still an interminable hour away, his wife texts, “Hurry.” My wife speeds the rented Traverse up I-35 North, the smoothest, blackest, flattest expanse of four-lane we’ve ever seen. The well-kept interstate, fresh asphalt, closely mown center medians, stretch before us in the 2 a.m. darkness. I imagine the SUV’s front wheels lifting off, separating from tarmac, rising up, flying over these final miles in minutes. Alas, we’re bound to … Continue reading My Brother’s Heart by Phyllis Brotherton

Dream House by Wendy Fontaine

Color photo of large house
 

Wendy Fontaine is the 3rd place winner of Streetlight‘s 2023 Essay/Memoir Contest An itchy palm means you’re going to come into some money. That’s what my dad always said. Whenever the tingling sensation hit, we’d walk around our mobile home holding out our hands and scratching at the skin as if to say, look, the money could already be on its way. Back then, I chalked it up to Italian superstition, the overriding principle that we could cultivate luck by tossing salt over our shoulders or avoid trouble by steering clear of black cats and … Continue reading Dream House by Wendy Fontaine

Love in Life’s Tunnels by Linda Styles Berkery

Photo of hands in shape of heart around candle in dark
 

Linda Berkery is the 2nd place winner of Streetlight‘s 2023 Essay/Memoir Contest Ten years ago, I was the one with memory loss. I was repeating questions in a loop. What day is it? Oh, Sunday. What did I do today? My husband called an ambulance and I was wheeled to the MRI tunnel. Since there was no sign of stroke, and my memory returned, I soon had a diagnosis, Transient Global Amnesia, and a warning from the neurologist. “You can’t get those memories back, no matter how much you try, so don’t try.” The frightening but … Continue reading Love in Life’s Tunnels by Linda Styles Berkery

Find the Difference by Rigel Oliveri

Color photo of waffle house and its sign
 

Rigel Oliveri is the 1st place winner of Streetlight‘s 2023 Essay/Memoir Contest It was late on a Saturday night. My son, who had just turned nine, woke up screaming. He had localized abdominal pain on one side. I couldn’t even touch his tummy without provoking screams. Although just thinking about the cost of an ER visit made me feel sick, this seemed serious. I woke my six-year-old daughter up and told her we had to go. Like a trooper, she threw a few books and some markers into her pillowcase and tossed it over her … Continue reading Find the Difference by Rigel Oliveri

Dee’s Salon by Jeff Ventura

Pink blossoms on branches
 

Jeff Ventura has earned an Honorable Mention in Streetlight’s 2022 Essay/Memoir Contest The love of a husband for a wife, of my father’s love for my mother, is scattered in my memory like peach blossoms after a spring storm. Sometime in the mid-to-late 70s, my mom—pregnant, and happy to leave the hot production floor of the Bonnie Lane pajama factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts—decided to open her own “beauty shop.” After all, she had graduated top of her class from the LeBaron Beauty School, and had, for a time, rented the best chair at the … Continue reading Dee’s Salon by Jeff Ventura

The Notebook by Susan Valas

Photo of pen on open notebook
 

Susan Valas is the 3rd place winner of Streetlight’s 2022 Essay/Memoir Contest It’s a drizzly-gray day in the spring of 1966. I stroll out the back door and climb into my dad’s Thunderbird with minutes to spare as I wait for my family. Like any eleven-year-old, I rummage through my father’s console hoping to find Clorets gum, or maybe some pipe cleaners. But lurking in a bunker inside of me is a tangle of hope and dread that I will also find a clue. And I do. Below the passenger seat—a throne upon which a … Continue reading The Notebook by Susan Valas