Poems & Essays

20 Jul

A Tree for His Father

General/Column 5 Responses

I spot him pulling a Christmas tree
from a dumpster in the parking lot.
My stomach knots when I realize
his father, the one he feels
he should live with for now, has not
cared enough to buy one for him.

As I near, he smiles, the light
in his eyes pulling at my heart.
“Hi, Mom. Someone threw out
this perfectly good tree.
I’m gonna surprise my dad!”

He searches my face for the approval
he needs. I concentrate on his eyes.
“You’re so good at finding surprises.”
I remember a red stamp holder,
shaped like a mailbox,
that he bought for me at a yard sale.

He is still, soaking in my praise,
the moment slowing to a stop,
when I cannot bear any pause
in this wait for him to understand
that he will never do enough to please
his father. I point to the tree.
“Would you like me to get my car
and drive you home?”

He scans the parking lot, nodding
toward a rusted pickup that is pulling
into the driveway. “That’s okay.
The janitor came by earlier and said
he’d take me.”

When they are ready to leave,
I pull him close, burying my face
in hair that has grown coarse
over the year, breathing in
as I remember my newborn boy,
his sweet baby smell, wispy hair
tickling my nose.


Sharyl Collin started writing poetry about four years ago. Her poems have appeared in various publications, including Mason’s Road Literary Journal, Wild Goose Poetry Review, *82 Review, The Intentional and Lummox.

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20 Jul

I Love Yous Necessary

General/Column No Response

Another week, another funeral.
This time a young boy, perched
on the edge of life. Grief grew
personal, remembering our sons
at home, grubby from ball practice,
squabbling over the last donut,
impatient for dinner to hit the table.

Dinner could wait. Like a mama bear,
I gathered sons, one by one, in my
arms, shuffled their hair, my eyes
brimful. Told them how much I loved
them, appreciated them. There were
squirms, “aw moms!” and grins.

More than my life, more than the smell
of meatloaf burning. Dinner could wait.
Hugs couldn’t. We’d fix mac and cheese
from a box if necessary. At the rate
they devoured food, it didn’t matter.
“Wash up, guys. Reggie, lose that
filthy shirt. Sit, let me see you.”


Gail Denham has been a mother for 55 years, a grandmother for many years, and a writer over 36 years. Many of her published poems and stories revolve around family. She has also sold photos to magazines, newspapers, books, etc. – many of these photos involved family interaction and children having fun. Gail belongs to many state poetry societies, leads writing and photography workshops at conferences and feels it’s been her calling to have children, to house many young people, and to continue to be in their lives.

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20 Jul

Treasures in the Sand

General/Column No Response

When my daughter was five or six, I packed the car and drove to the lake. I had to lug bottles of water, a bag of fishy-smelling beach toys, a lunch cooler, and a lawn chair across the parking lot and down the stairs to the beach. I stopped to take a breath and take in the scenery.

Broken flip flops, water-engorged diapers, plastic bags, and pieces of glass littered the shore from the weekend. My daughter took off barefoot to scare a gaggle of seagulls. I screeched for her to be careful (I imagined her cutting her foot and getting an infection) but only managed to scatter the seagulls before she got to them.

I set up my lawn chair, trying to avoid a decomposing fish with flies buzzing around its dead jelly eyes. Almost immediately, we were surrounded by a horde of children wanting to borrow our beach toys. I could not keep track of them and my daughter, who had wandered ankle-deep into the water only to run back when a frothy wave unfurled and threw itself at her. I didn’t even bother to sit down. What was I thinking! This place was a death trap.

My daughter came running back, “Look Mommy,” she shouted excitedly. In her hand she clenched a plastic tampon applicator, a shiny foil condom wrapper, and tabs from beer cans. “Treasures!” she exclaimed.


This past week my 23-year-old daughter came home from a semester abroad in London and traveling solo through Spain. Just like that day on the beach, I envisioned every last thing that could go wrong—and did, a little bit. She had her phone stolen on the train; she got caught in the rain; she missed her flight home; but despite all the bad stuff that happened, she made it back with treasures:  a button found outside a West End theater, a picture a friend had scribbled on the back of a napkin, a postcard from Madrid, a seashell found on the beach at Malaga, the fragment of a map folded and refolded in the rain outside a castle.

I might not be done freaking out—there is ALWAYS something to worry about—yet I’d like to learn to distill treasures from trash and keep in mind memories, smooth as sea glass, churned up by rough waters.


Jane Hertenstein’s current obsession is flash. She is the author of over 40 published stories, a combination of fiction, creative non-fiction, and blurred genre both micro and macro. In addition she has published a YA novel, Beyond Paradise, and a non-fiction project, Orphan Girl: The Memoir of a Chicago Bag Lady, which garnered national reviews. She is a 2x recipient of a grant from the Illinois Arts Council. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in: Hunger Mountain, Rosebud, Word Riot, Flashquake, Fiction Fix, Frostwriting, and several themed anthologies. She can be found at http://memoirouswrite.blogspot.com/. Her latest book is Freeze Frame: How To Write Flash Memoir.

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20 Jul


General/Column One Response

You touch my glass, say brr. This is cold I say, like snow.
The way ice feels against the tongue, water in the bath
that’s left too long. We turn the lights out: dark. This is
what stars look bright against, what you need to fall asleep,
black velvet. Up you say, hands raised in the high chair,
wanting release. It is where the sky resides, where you find
the ceiling fan, how you hang clothes.

For now, these definitions will suffice. One day up will mean
the way you feel when he takes your hand; dark, the short
black dress you wear on New Year’s Eve; cold, champagne
on your wedding day. My daughter, words are my work; they
describe birches, wind, birds’ wings. So many adjectives, so
many ways to say. My word for you, love, both noun and verb.


Catherine Harnett is a poet and fiction writer from Virginia who has published two books and whose work has appeared in a number of places. She writes many coming-of-age stories which illustrate life through the eyes of children as they experience the world. “Her Gorgeous Grief” appears in a volume of Coming-of-Age stories from the Hudson Review. 

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