Midwife to the Dying–dVerse Poetics

Photo: lifehopeandtruth.com

Photo: lifehopeandtruth.com


Midwife to the Dying

“Watch with me, please stay.”

Her raspy whisper rouses me from an impending 3 AM stupor. I take her outstretched hand, cold and gnarly. The veins read like a roadmap, the radial pulse thunking in violent resistance to death.

“I’m here.” I squeeze her hand a bit tighter, dampen a small sponge “lollipop” and moisten her cracked lips and tongue. The hissing of oxygen, a gurgling humidifier and her labored breathing play the dirge of dying.

A glow, cast by a small night light, throws the shadow of her struggling profile on the blank wall. “I’m right here,” I say again, as I witness for the umpteenth time the drama of letting go, wondering the while how many others are enacting this final scene of their lives at this moment. Alone.

Watching the dying,
sacred moment of birthing
to another life.

I ask myself once more: “Will someone watch with me?”

Today, at dVerse Poetics, we are honored to welcome our guest host, Lynn, who bids us to consider the title of Harper Lee’s new title, “Go Set a Watchman,” a title based on a verse from Isaiah. I went with a memoir-like haibun.

Le Mendicant

Photo: flicker

Photo: flicker

Le Mendicant
A Narrative Poem

I make my way slowly toward la Gare du Nord, pass la Rue Phillipe de Girard. I lumber along at a slow pace. The ache in my feet shoots up my legs. The night was cold last night and us seventy-something’s have poor circulation, especially when we sleep in alleys.

At the entry to la Boulangerie, I pause, take in a deep breath and dream. The smell of bread, just coming out of the oven, fills me with pain. A young woman, dressed in a tweed business suit, three-piece, and three-inch heels, exits. She turns abruptly and walks hurriedly away from me. The scent of the baguette lingers like an expensive perfume. Its rough texture and golden color remind me of better days. Today I haven’t a sou in the pocket of my tattered jacket.

When I reach the station, I take my seat on the rough concrete of the steps leading to departures. The chill penetrates, creeps up my spine. As I extend my callused hand, I know what they think, but they don’t know my story. It hurts to look into their eyes and see them avert their own in embarrassment as they rush by. A few drop a coin or two, not enough for a loaf.

Counting them at the end of an hour, I think I may have enough for a small, day-old roll and a cup of black coffee. I stand, stomp my feet in hopes of regaining some sensation, and straighten my old back a bit at a time. Grasping the railing, I climb back to street level and make my way back to the bakery.

Maybe someday, someone will stop to listen and offer me the bread of understanding.

Written in narrative poetry, from a first person perspective, this is a fictional collage from a few images that linger with me from the time I lived in Paris. The reality is true world-wide.

For dVerse Poetics. The prompt is Bread and the pub opens Tuesday 3:00 PM EST. Hope to see you there!


Belch Gulch


Belch Gulch
Creative Non-Fiction

“There’s grandpa comin’ up the hill; ya got your stuff ready?”

Carole and I grabbed our crumply paper bags, stuffed with jeans, tee shirts, toothbrushes—the bare minimum. It wasn’t as though we were going on a spa vacation.

We ran down, hopped on the running board of his ’52 red Ford pick-up and hitched a ride back up the hill to say good-bye to our Moms and pick up the food they had ready for us, then grandpa would give us a boost into the bed of his truck. We’d nest alongside his ’22 rifle and sleeping bags, a couple of bags of cement and a somewhat tattered hammock. Once we settled in, Grandpa would shift the gears and we’d rattle off—northwards toward the Grapevine—the old two-lane one, that is.

The wind would whistle and we’d stick our heads out so as to get the full blast, hair flying wild-like, in defiance of every safety precaution now regulated by overly anxious, tight-assed politicians hoping to prove their worth to their constituents.

After getting over the pass we’d head east to Highway 40-something and follow the twisting, narrow road along the rocky precipice snaking along the course of the Kern River. We’d lurch from side-to-side back there—holding tight to the gun to keep it secure and embracing the cargo, perhaps to feel that way ourselves. We’d plan the weekend—intervals of hard work, building the cabin on the land with the abandoned gold mine that Grandpa had laid claim to, hiking up the mountain behind him to build that pipeline for water that he, a retired civil engineer, had designed. But, especially, target practice—taking out empty beer cans he’d collect from the neighbors throughout the week.

Then Sunday afternoon, exhausted but happy, we’d head back down Belch Gulch, wishing we could avoid the week ahead—the drudgery of another kind of learning—one, perhaps, more suited to the lives we yet had to live.

Shannon, at dVerse Poetics, invites us to share the rhythm of the road this week. This isn’t poetry per se, but the prompt took me back to my growing up years when my girlfriend Carole and I would go with my Grandfather to the cabin he was building in California gold country.

Book Review: How Was I Supposed to Know? by Lorna Lee

I’m only an occasional book-reviewer, but it is my joy to present to you the memoir recently published by fellow Blogger, Lorna Lee.

Lorna Lee, Author

Lorna Lee, Author

A first take on this memoir may give the impression that it could be anyone’s story…or at least that of those of us who grew up in the 2nd half of the 20th Century. It is indeed an adventure (do you know anyone else who was struck twice by lightning?) and it evaluates the angst of coming-of-age with clarity and humor. Humor it is that makes Lorna Lee’s telling such a compelling read.

The author, who has a doctoral degree in sociology, sheds insight that enables readers of diverse backgrounds to identify and learn from the larger themes that she skillfully embeds in her telling of struggling with weight issues, alcoholism in her family of origins which poured into her own life at an early age, of allowing herself to become involved in relationships that kept her in a subservient role, of significant health challenges and eventually in her amazing rebirth as a woman of strength and self-nurture. Oh, and did I mention humor?

I wholeheartedly recommend “How Was I Supposed to Know?” both for its insights and the shear delight of a story well told.




Clocks in Candlelight

Image via Wikipedia


Tucked in a corner,
half-hidden by the family Bible,
the outstretched arms of
an ancient Timekeeper
reach toward the North,
announce twelve-oh-two,
as they have for a decade.

On the wall across the room,
voicing opposition, a nervous counterpart
ticks off the seconds,
sounds like skittering cockroaches.
Nine-sixteen the
hands extend in reply.

A chimera of light
bursts through the slats of
plantation shutters,
interrupts darkness,
exposes naked dust motes
dancing with fairies.

A cordless phone,
askew in its cradle,
has ceased to breathe.
Musty air,
heavy with mold,
hangs like an oppressive fog.

Generations stare at one another
from adjacent bookcases.
Great-great grandfather glares
at his kin
from atop the highest shelf.
Framed branches of the family tree
die out.

Edgar Allan Poe sits
propped against a lusty novel.
Irving Stone sidles up
to Nora Roberts.
Beside a blinking modem
a replica of a Rodin bronze

On the bottom of a pile
tomes of large slick hardbacks
lie prone,
exhausted from years
of perusal.
The creamy white spines of
World Book Encyclopedias
measure the years
in gold serif print,
hurtle to an end in
nineteen sixty-nine.

Plastic flowers gather dust,
don’t die.

down the hall,
an old man struggles for air.

I’m re-posting this poem for dVerse Poetics, hosted this week by very talented Charles Miller. The “Chazinator” asks us to fill in the gaps for the reader–that is, give a bit of background on what was happening in your life, expose the dynamics behind the poem.

I wrote this a few years ago during a visit to my Mom in Huntington Beach, CA. At the time, Mom was in early stages of dementia and totally denied what was happening. It was a period of frustration, and even depression for me. I get up early in the morning for some quiet time and when I visit her I close myself in her library/den–the room I describe in this poem. That morning I was in a total funk and couldn’t concentrate at all. So I decided to look around the room and just notice the details, which I ended up writing down in notes. A year or so later, those notes became this poem.

Mom grew up during the depression and was widowed in World War II when my father, a B-24 pilot, was killed. Left with a 3-month old baby (moi) and a small widow’s pension, she had her share of financial worries. When she remarried that became a non-issue, but she still holds on to everything…thus a room that is (as I see it, but I’m a minimalist) cluttered.

The last stanza is pure fiction. I write fiction, so I often fictionalize my poetry as well. However, a few months ago, I gave a copy of this to my mother, but changed the final lines. She does not like anything dark, to put it mildly. Here’s how I “sweetened” it for her:

Final Stanza–


down the hall,

a woman fondles her memories.

Mom is still alive at 91, has accepted her cognitive limitations, and allows us to see that she get the help she needs. She does require 24-hour caregiving. I will visit the end of the month and see what’s been added to the library!

Wordsmith Wednesday–Guest Post by Lisa Rivero

Early in my blogging ventures I happened upon an excellent writing site hosted by Lisa Rivero. For this week’s Wordsmith Wednesday, I’m honored that Lisa has agreed to guest-post an article that will inspire those of you who write (or are thinking about writing) Memoir or Family History.

Lisa is a writer of non-fiction in the areas of food, cooking, wellness and parenting. She has written a child’s historical novel which is represented by Bree Ogden of Martin Literary Management. She teaches writing, technical composition, creative thinking and humanities at Milwaukee School of Engineering and lectures around the country on a number of issues including the creative life and parenting gifted children. She also maintains a blog: Everyday Intensity.

Lisa Rivero


Voices Flying Off the Page: The Many Uses of Historical Diaries

Michelle Hoover, whose novel The Quickening is based loosely on a 15-page journal written by her great-grandmother, says that “the voice just flew off the page….When I started to write Enidina based on my great-grandmother, I had it from the beginning.”

Similarly, novelist Rebecca Rasmussen based her novel The Bird Sisters on forty years of her grandmother’s diaries. Rebecca says that after reading and re-reading her grandmother’s words and story, “I came to the determination that I should close the journal and let their voices, which were now fully invested in my heart, speak for themselves.”

Ever since I began a long-term project of reading and transcribing the diaries of my great-aunt Hattie—all 77 volumes and over 37 years of them—I have been amazed and heartened by how many other people also have similar family treasures and hold them close. For writers, the experience of reading another’s life and voice with care offers both inspiration and rich historical details. Consider these two entries by Hattie:

April 22, 1933: A man and wife soliciting for the Salvation Army were here yesterday, and Wm gave them 50 cents and one old hen.

April 21, 1935: Will did a lot of jobs in a.m., emptied ashes, put potatoes and smoked meat in the cellar, and helped me with breakfast dishes, made ice-cream, got in a lot of water. This is Easter Sunday, and the Furrey Family went to O’Kreek, but there was no church, so came back home, ate breakfast, finished chores, came over here for dinner, for I dressed a chicken that Will got me, roasted it, baked a cake, mopped the front room and kitchen floors. Fritz came in p.m., and he will help Lattimores this coming week. Furreys and us to School Picnic and Kitten-ball, then more ice-cream.

Anyone writing about the Midwest in the Great Depression now knows that 50 cents and an old hen were an acceptable donation to the Salvation Army, that potatoes and smoked meat were stored in the cellar, that in the days before cell phones it was common to drive to a country church only to find no priest, and that, in this particular family, the husband was quite the helper around the house. Fritz was one of Hattie’s nephews, and like many young men, he earned money by working at various farms when he could (“he will help Lattimores this coming week”). A little additional research uncovers that kitten ball was an early name for softball, the rules of which were standardized only in 1933.

I’m finding that using dairy entries as prompts for short flash pieces is an excellent writing exercise. Ideas include challenging yourself to capture the diarist’s voice, portray a setting, imagine a dialogue, or write the scene from the perspective of someone else who is mentioned in a particular entry.

Even if you don’t have any family diaries of your own, plenty of digital historical material is available online. Here are just a few examples, and you can find many more by searching state historical societies, university library holdings, and genealogy records and blogs.

• One of the most fun sources is Historical Diaries on Twitter, where you can follow perhaps the most famous diarist of them all, Samuel Pepys.
• The Historic Iowa Children’s Diaries collection features diaries by children of settlers.
• The Mormon Missionary Diaries is a vast, searchable digital collection of diaries kept by over 100 missionaries.
• The Wisconsin Historical Society offers rotating excerpts from diaries in their collection, currently featuring the diaries of Emily Quiner, a 23-year-old school teacher in Madison.
• The Library of Congress’s Nebraska Settlement and Family Letters website offers both photographs and letters from two homesteading families.
• The high-school teaching guides Diary of a Planter and Diary of a Farm Wife from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are annotated diary entries that are informative for adults as well as young students.
• In Diaries on the Web: A Practical Guide, Joanne Riley shares presentation slides about how to find and share diaries online.
• Finally, I was excited to find online the diaries of Martha Ballard, upon which historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich based her excellent book A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785 – 1812.

What is your experience of family diaries? Do you keep a diary of your own?

When you have a few moments, be sure to take the time to pay a visit to Lisa at http://lisarivero.com You will not be disappointed. Thank you, Lisa, for sharing your insights with us.

Room for Romance: Stewie and Me

As soon as I saw the picture prompt on S.I.S’s Room for Romance blog I knew I had to write a little snapshot from my life. The story that follows is true and I’d have to guess it began way back in 1948 or so. My mother, a war widow, and I lived with my grandparents on an unpopulated hill in Eagle Rock, California. The facts and memories in this story are accurate as I remember them, down to the details.

Stewie and Me

It was in my 5th year that I met the boy who everyone assumed I would someday marry. Spring had come early that year and so had Easter. Wild daffodils surrounded the rolling hills, separating us from our closest neighbor. Their subtle scent lingered in the air.

Not long after we returned from Mass, a tentative knocking at the door startled my family. “Who’s here this at this time of the day?” Grandpa said as he pulled his lanky frame away from the breakfast table.

When he opened the door there stood Stewie, our closest neighbor, with his mother, a florist. He stuck out his arm and proffered a box. “This is for Vicki.” A faint blush spread across his freckled face as Mama propelled me to the door and guided my hands to accept the corsage made of pink carnations.

In the years that followed, as we grew older, this tender scenario repeated itself over and over. Corsages for Christmas and Easter, candy for Valentine’s Day. As closest neighbors in a rural area of Los Angeles, we became playmates. He fed my dolls mud pies and I hurled after him into danger, down steep slopes in card board boxes or on cookie sheets. He split my head open in a game of Kick the Can and pummeled me with arrow-sticks in Cowboys and Indians.

The day arrived when Mama remarried and we packed up and moved away from that house on the hill. It wasn’t goodbye for Stewie and me because visits to grandpa were frequent and filled with fun.

I remember it still. We were sitting around the table, talking over the day’s events. I was probably eleven or twelve and not much caring for the canned chop suey that sat in a puddle of soy sauce on my plate. It was Mama who answered the phone. The expression on her face told me that there were worse things than the pile of slimy veggies on the plate before me.

“Stewie’s dead,” she said.

I dropped my fork.

What would life had been like, I wonder, if he and his buddies hadn’t climbed over that fence to hitch a ride on the oil well that crushed him? Mama told me once I was old enough to understand that, even if he’d survived, he could never have been my husband.

Check out more sweet romances at: http://roomforromance.blogspot.com/

Monday Morning Writing Prompt–A Day Late

As I get more and more immersed in the world of poetry, I’m forgetting other things that I’ve committed to. Yesterday I spent a lot of time reading wonderful poetry from Jingle’s Poetry Potluck and then met in person with my PA group (Poet’s Anonymous) to critique each others’ work. The bottom line: I forgot to post a writing prompt to jump-start the week for those of us who may be stuck.

So, for today, try writing a short piece of prose or poetry, perhaps memoir, about something you forgot that had unintended consequences and post a link in comments if you will.

Happy writing. Enjoy the process.