Poems & Essays

23 Mar

My Mother’s Rings

General/Column One Response

I wear my mother’s rings;

and though she would not say it,

I have my mother’s hands.

She dressed her children

just as I dressed mine;

fingered buttons,

tied shoes.

Played croquet and cards,

and sometimes dolls or trucks.

Made meals,

made peace.

Washed dishes,

and faces.

Mended clothes,

and skin and hearts.

Turned the pages of books,

that had been turned

it seemed,

a hundred times before.

Then placed the rings

in her daughter’s hands.


Karen Buckley is the mother of two adult children and the grandmother of her daughter’s daughter. She is also an English and philosophy professor at the University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. 


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23 Mar

Jar of Dandelions

General/Column One Response

From the window,

I watch little feet,

Slapping wet grass

toe to heel

in rhythm with the humming

of the simple summer’s wind.

Dimpled hands, digging

At the cool damp clay,

Earth and mud softly smearing

Between every finger, filling

the cracks and spaces

that separate each joint.


I stare at the glass

Through the double pane,

As I used to do at the museum.

I would stand and scan

The symmetrical walls,

Impressed with the collection,

Or aging frames, that captured

The art so profoundly.

From where I am now,

The paint is chipping,

The sill worn from washing

mismatch dishes‐

The glass splattered with suds

And corners yellowed

From dirty water,

drained from jars,

Filled with dandelions.


I loosely wipe spots

From where I most often look,

I don’t notice the dust

Or smudgy prints

Except in the morning,

When the sun climbs the hills,

And reminds me of messes

The evening has made.


I pull the curtain,

crooked to cover

A glow from the grimy glare,

Bringing my coffee

close till the steam

rushes toward my cheeks.

I rub the handle

And wait to hear

A rustling from upstairs,

As the day awakes

Night’s restless blanket,

And lifts the silence

That has settled.


Cahla Downs:

As a mother and writer, I often watch life and see the time pass by me, as if they were words streaming into my mind, like pen on paper. My writing is an attempt at etching these moments into history, sharing the intimacy, simplicity, and complexity of humanity. Using my passion as a poet, I want to give something back to this world that has so humbly given me life.

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23 Mar

Reminiscence of the Sleep Bringer

General/Column No Response

In the dark, my son slaps

at my three-day-old scruff

and I recall the texture

of my father’s face when camping,

when his electric razor would die

allowing a salt-and-pepper shadow

to crawl over his chin;


I remember kneading his face

between the heels of my hands

to identify the person

lifting me out of the steel sink

in a Cook Forest bathhouse;


or perhaps now I just know

how it must have been

to be small and loved

that I imagine myself

in my son’s place, stroking

the coarse grain of a cheek,

tracing the edges


in a darkened room,

shade pulled to block out the starlight reflecting

from the snow, swaying steady

in the arms of an awkward giant—

the sleep bringer

shushing the darkness.
Daniel Ruefman is a poet whose work has appeared most recently in The Red Earth Review, The Flagler Review, Gravel Magazine, SLAB, Temenos, and DIALOGIST (among others). His chapbook, BREATHE AUTOMATIC, was released by Finishing Line Press in 2014. Daniel is the father to one and teaches writing at the University of Wisconsin–Stout.

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23 Mar

How They Will Grow

General/Column 3 Responses

I know a man who never waters his garden. Every spring, he plants an array of seeds in richly fertilized and cultivated soil, tamps a fond farewell and hopes for the best. He says a little stress is good for the plants, being thirsty will make them hardy, and when they do get a drink of rain they will learn to use that sustenance efficiently. As crazy as personifying vegetable sprigs sounds, this is the way the man gardens, and year after year he reaps a bountiful harvest.

This man parents his children in much the same way: lays a solid foundation, provides the necessities, and then sends them out on their own come what may. He likens giving help in any manner to coddling and has a no re-admittance policy after the age of eighteen. Like their horticultural counterparts, his children are resilient, self-sufficient, and stoic in the face of adversity; but they aren’t very loving, or generous, or kind.

I think of this man every year when I start my garden and consider trying his tough-love approach. Why not? I ask myself. What could it harm? I imagine letting something I gave life to struggle to the point of perishing, dying needlessly when help is a hose-length away. I flirt with his method, yet every year at the first sign of wilting leaves, I shower my little plants with a gentle spray, ultimately not willing to risk losing any of them if I can help it. Does this mean I am spoiling them, raising them to be weak and defenseless in the soiled world? Am I quashing their will to live? And what about my own parenting style, what does my garden say about my mothering?

I rake this question back and forth in my mind while methodically preparing this year’s dirt. Do I make life too easy for my child? I till through tangles of deeply rooted social convention and conflicting opinions. Will letting her cry breed insecurity? Will picking her up make her needy? I break apart the clumpy surface mounds of clay and sand, as common as my daily routine, and mix them with what lies beneath: cool, dark richness. Not just dirt any longer, but soil, ready to impart its magic upon tiny, shelled dormancies. How profound it is to be the medium of growth, to be the one responsible for raw potential, like a mother shaping a life. Am I worthy of such a miraculous mission?

From my sifting thoughts, a single word sprouts and vines towards its flowering. Purpose. What is my purpose in cultivating a person? It would be simple to apply the principles of agriculture to child rearing if I were only interested in one generation, one season, but my purpose is to raise a child capable of becoming a nurturing parent herself one day. Giving nourishment is so much
easier after receiving it. So, while I understand this man’s philosophy, I will still water my plants. I can love without indulging; I can assuage their thirst without rotting their roots.

Michelle Riddell lives with her family in rural mid-Michigan. She is a substitute teacher at her daughter’s elementary school where source material, both heartbreaking and humorous, is abundant. Her short features have been published in MomSense and Hello,Darling magazines.

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