Poems & Essays

05 Feb

The Stranger I Call Mother

Taking Flight No Response

When my mother called me last September, I was surprised by how easily I still recognized the sound of her voice. When I was four years old, my father had thrown her out of our home and within a year, she was erased from my life.

My mother became like a family myth, an outcast who people only talked about when they thought I couldn’t hear them. Pictures of her were discarded, except for one that I found in our basement. Scared of being caught with it, I left it there, coming back to hold it over and over, when no one was watching. It was a photo from an amusement park, my sister and I perched beside each other on the carousel, our mother standing nearby. I recognized her auburn ponytail and held the photo close, squinting, hoping each time to bring her face more into focus. The picture proved to me she was real. I wanted more. I wanted the details of her, instead of just the blurry outlines that had come to occupy my mind.

Sometimes late at night–always at night–my sister and I whispered about her in the bedroom that we shared. We called her “You-Know-Who” because we didn’t dare speak her name. Our loving, gentle mother had become like a ghost who only came out in the dark.

We recounted our memories of her. I remembered her last night at home, my sister and I standing by the back door with her, our winter coats on. Our mother’s hand was on the doorknob, when my father demanded to know where we were going. I recall how I felt the tension viscerally. We did not end up leaving, and my sister remembers hearing the fighting, yelling and crying, after we went to bed that night. When we awoke the next morning, our mother was gone.

I saw her once when I was a teen. My sister and I snuck away one evening and arrived on her doorstep at dusk, ten years after we had last seen her. She cried and hugged us. She told us that she has always hoped we would come find her. There were cards and letters she sent, she said, things we had never received. I believed her, because I remembered the day my sister found them in a dresser drawer. Letters, birthday and Christmas cards, stashed away, threatening to blow my father’s plan- to move on as if divorce- and our mother- had never touched our lives. He had even replaced her with a new mother for us, putting life back in order, or so he thought. No one dared tell him otherwise.

I stood mute in mother’s home. She was a living, breathing person, the answer to the empty space in my heart where Mother should have been, but I was not quite ready for this. Where was my voice? I silently reprimanded myself for my passivity, my succumbence. I knew this place of no-feeling. This surrender to powerlessness, I had been here before. What I thought or felt seemed of little matter when self-agency was off the table. I knew I could not have my mother back, not yet anyway. Not when I had to go home to my father. So, I let all of my feelings -my love and my grief- stay underground. We said goodbye and I tucked her back into the past, into the far corners of my mind.

Another ten years went by and one warm fall day I saw her again when I was in my twenties, a mother myself. She met my daughters who were babies then. For the next year we engaged in an awkward attempt at reconnection. We used email a lot, because it felt safe. We could choose our words carefully. And when we did meet up in person, we were polite, tentative. In each other, we saw a reservoir of grief, each encounter a risk of prodding the pain. We looked so much alike, reminding us that at one time, before we were strangers, we were mother and daughter.

I had no idea how I would integrate her into my life, the life that did not include her, that in fact was very much built on her absence.

Besides, my father was still in my life and I didn’t know how to tell him I was reconnecting with my mother. I could not find the words. I didn’t even bother trying. Where was my authenticity? Where were my words? It felt like loss and sickness and fear. I was that child in the dark again, the one who could not say her mother’s name.

Eventually, I pushed my mother away, because this seemed like the safest thing to do.

Devastated, she said “I think your father is controlling you just like he controlled me.”

“Well you’re the one who left me with him,” I snapped back.

Not long after this aborted attempt at a reconnection, she moved to Arizona.

And then twenty years slipped by, just like that.

But last September she flew up to Massachusetts because her mother, my grandmother, was dying. On the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend, she called me. I asked about my grandmother and about my mother’s flight from Arizona. I was eager to settle on a day that I would come see her, knowing this might be our last chance to reconnect.

If not now, when?

I offered to drive to my grandmother’s house the very next day, on Cape Cod where my mother was staying. She agreed, and then we hung up.

The next morning I went through my closet…what does one wear when they haven’t seen their mother in twenty years?

It was a beautiful, sunny day driving to my grandmother’s house. When my mother answered the door, I thought how lovely she still was. I looked into her dark blue eyes, the same as mine, wanting to see my own reflection, wanting to see daughter in her eyes.

I saw my grandmother that day too, and my aunt, people who had loved me, also casualties of my parents’ divorce. Now they embraced me, welcomed me as if I had finally come home.

My mother and I walked and talked of the weather and of my grandmother’s end of life. We talked of my daughters, all grown up now, and of family resemblances and of the ocean and of her quiet life in Arizona.

I wanted to talk about the stolen years, to face everything head on, but I knew that even after all this time, her pain was still raw; I saw it in her eyes that filled with tears at the slightest mention of the past.

I can feel her regret that is so vast it could swallow her; I think her grief might turn her to particles, to the dust in the desert she lives in.

I wanted to say I wish you would move back to Massachusetts. I want to spend time with you, to make up for all the lost years. I want her to know my husband and our daughters.

I want my mother back. I don’t want her to live two thousand and five hundred and seventy-two miles away for one more day. But I don’t say this. Instead I ask, “Don’t you miss the ocean?”

When it was time for me to go, we hugged goodbye and both said how happy we were to have had this day. We agreed that we both wanted to stay in touch, but we made no promises, no unrealistic mention of all the time we would spend together, knowing she would fly back to Arizona, to her life there.

We talk on the phone sometimes now. We are still getting to know each other.

I usually keep the conversation light, because I know that’s what she needs.

But the last time we talked, I did bring up the past. I told her that I needed her to know something.

“I know you meant to bring me with you when I was four. I know that was your plan. You told me so back then. You were preparing me to leave with you; I remember.”

There was a long pause…and some tears. She was relieved that I knew this.

“I love you,” she said. “I always have.”

I said, “I love you too.” And then I asked about her day.



Dana Laquidara’s work appears in The Huffington Post, Literary Mama, and Brain, Child magazine, among other publications. She took first place at a Boston MOTH live storytelling event, performing a piece from her memoir-in-progress, You-Know-Who. She speaks on the topics of parental alienation and recovering one’s authenticity.








Dana Laquidara’s writing won an award in the 76th Writer’s Digest annual competition, memoir category, and she was the winner of the Writing Well Nonfiction contest in 2016. She is a Moth Story Slam Champion, a public speaker, and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, among other publications. She is currently writing her memoir.

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05 Feb

The Little Engine That Couldn’t

Taking Flight No Response

One evening fairly recently my husband and I came to a head about that figure of utmost importance in the American landscape: The Little Engine That Could.

“It’s a boy,” said my husband.

“No, it’s a girl,” I said.

“It wouldn’t be blue if it’s a girl.”

“It’s blue, and it’s a girl. I’ll prove it.”

I opened the book. As I read how the little engine chugged, puffed, and ding-donged happily along, I scoured the page until I spied what I was looking for—the pronoun she. The little train was a girl.

Ah-ha! I was right! (Well sort of, that female train was the one that got stuck, not the blue engine; but the blue engine proved to be a girl, too.)

For a refresher, what happens in the story is that one girl engine is packed full of toys and dolls and clowns—and also with apples and milk (and even spinach for dinner, smart female train). But she is so jam-packed that she runs out of steam (quite literally). Then, three male engines come by and do not help.

If we are giving the male engines the benefit of the doubt, perhaps they do not understand the demands of the seemingly insignificant toys and dolls and milk and spinach. After all, they often do not see the toys and dolls strewn across the floor (for the thousandth time) right after they have just been picked up (for the thousandth time). Or perhaps the passerby males don’t understand that spilt milk, if it is breast milk that you’ve painstakingly pumped for days—or weeks—is worth crying over. Male hormones, after all, are not chugging up at the beginning of the month and chugging down at the end of it, all year long.   Male bodies are not puffing out 30+ pounds to grow a baby, and then their bodies are not huffing out 30+ pounds trying to lose the weight after delivery. Most males do not hear the doorbell go ding-dong in the middle of the day, just as a bumbling toddler figures out how to climb on top of the play set (not into—on top of), and so whoever’s at the door has to wait while the dog barks ferociously and the baby tumbles to the ground and you scoop him up, crying (the both of you) and just as you pull open the front door, the pot of water filled with macaroni for lunch boils over. These are not big things. These are little things. Seemingly insignificant things. But they are so many and so constant that it is not uncommon to feel like the little train that stops “with a jerk” and cannot “go another inch.”

There is a reason why the train that breaks down is little. There is a reason she is a girl. There is a reason the train that helps her is a little girl, too.

C.S. Lewis once said, “Friendship … is born at the moment when one (wo)man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .” (“Wo” added, for often the tale of woman is like man, but with a bit of woe.)

There was a time before I met my husband when I’d sworn off men all together. When men, true to their train natures, did not have my best interests at heart, and so they left that heart broken down on the tracks.

There was a time last year when it was freezing cold and dark all the time, and my three-month-old son still wasn’t sleeping, and we had just moved to D.C., and the only person I talked to regularly was Lady—our dog—who wasn’t even a person, but had to get upgraded in species status because of the depths of my loneliness.

There was a time just last month when all I’d worked for in my writing career appeared to be lost. Four years of work, lost.

For all of my female friends, and all the female friends I do not know yet, I wish I could be there with you on the day when you stop with a jerk and cannot go another inch. Much has changed for women since The Little Engine That Could was written in 1930, and much for the better. But one of the tragedies of modernity is isolation. Our metaphorical trains don’t necessarily break down more often than any other generation; but they can stay broken longer. And I think, in part, this is due to perceptions.

Though I remembered that The Little Engine That Could was a female, I misremembered her story. I thought that she was carrying the toys the whole time, and then she just willed her way up the mountain. But that’s not what happens. A different female engine breaks down, and then the little blue engine comes along and helps her.

It is as if, between the lines, you can hear the blue engine say to the broken down engine, “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .”

The load is heavy. The terrain goes up and up and up. No single female engine can do it alone. But we’re not meant to. We’re meant to carry the loads of our friends.




Kerry Anne Harris received her MFA from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2015, where she received the annual Doris Betts Award in Creative Writing in 2014 and again in 2015. She is currently a stay at home mom and blogs about motherhood at aladyandababy.wordpress.com. Some of her shorter essays have been published on parenting websites such as Great Moments in Parenting, and she has also been featured on the Mom Bloggers Club.

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05 Feb


Toddlers to Teens No Response

Her mother called her hair dishwater blonde,
referring to the swirls of ash and gold,
to the way it scrubbed everything clean,
the way it had the leavings of the universe,
stars shattered onto metallic strands
speaking in the voice of nebulae softened
for earth’s atmosphere, a beautiful thing
that couldn’t be seen by a parent, except
in reference to the everyday muck of
leftovers washed away, but beautiful still,
I hope my mom knew, beautiful still.




Vivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her work has appeared in Muse /A Journal, Forage Poetry Journal, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Creative Nonfiction, The Atlantic, The Ilanot Review, Silk Road Review, Zone 3, Eyedrum Periodically, 3QR, and other publications. She’s also the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books).

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05 Feb

Rules for Parenting

Toddlers to Teens One Response

First, know that you know nothing,
and you’ll continue to know
nothing into the infinite future.
That small furry baby’s head
of a reed going to seed along the shore
signifies everything you don’t know,
and that cry? It’s your own cry,
so let it roll out of your throat
and into the world, where it
will find a home on hawk wings
and at the tips of pine needles.
Second, flow with this river
even though it’s colder than ice,
even though it’s more dangerous
than anything you’ve ever done.
Keep your feet up, over the
smooth rocks and pointed downstream,
because that’s the only hope
you’ll have of surviving.
Finally, know that you won’t arrive.
This water goes forever,
past spruces with eagles’ nests and
beneath skies that alternate
dark and brilliant.
All along you’ll be thinking
you must almost be there,
but you won’t be.
You’ll still be floating,
still trying to avoid getting
tangled in roots and drawn
under boulders, still riding
white waves and discovering
quiet pools, and there’s no
way of stopping, no end
except an ocean that will,
finally, draw you into
its broad, loving arms.



Vivian Wagner is an associate professor of English at Muskingum University in New Concord, Ohio. Her work has appeared in Muse /A Journal, Forage Poetry Journal, Pittsburgh Poetry Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Creative Nonfiction, The Atlantic, The Ilanot Review, Silk Road Review, Zone 3, Eyedrum Periodically, 3QR, and other publications. She’s also the author of a memoir, Fiddle: One Woman, Four Strings, and 8,000 Miles of Music (Citadel-Kensington), and a poetry collection, The Village (Kelsay Books).

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