Poems & Essays

29 Jun

How to Deal with Rejection

Toddlers to Teens One Response

If you snap the branch of a pine tree, it never grows back.
So I worry about that as they climb
the neighbor’s evergreen, hurling
airplanes at his daffodils. With heavy shovels,
I till the garden. Each shoulder swivel, twist and heave aches.
Our neighbor stops tending his bees, asks the boys to leave,
to retrieve their styrofoam wings,
edges dipped like petals. Trading flight for spades,
digging hard packed clay for fossils, dead remains.
Singing, flinging dirt over the gate, making up a chorus,
painting over pine branches
in rough-hewn brushstrokes like Gauguin. Flat lands blasted
with violent color, untamed and pure, everything else
sacrificed. Never cleaning the palette, just mixing
fresh hues on top of what is already dried.

Matthew Miller teaches social studies, swings tennis rackets, and writes poetry – all hoping to create a home. He lives beside a dilapidating apple orchard in Indiana, and tries to shape the dead trees into playhouses for his four boys. His poetry has been published in The Flying Island, PAN-O-PLY and Your Daily Poem.

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29 Jun

The Wind is Simply Air in Motion

Toddlers to Teens No Response

It seems you’ve stopped napping
this spring. And as things change quickly,
your counterclockwise gusts bend us
more than we’d like. You shake the limbs
of budding trees, wear trenches through
the mulberries, toss basketballs in the yard.
We send others to retrieve them, to
sweep up your mess. You always flow away
from pressure. Remember when you wrenched
the door off the playset, and we made art
out of it. Sometimes, you settle yourself
in the orange and deep blue of sundown,
and I read out loud. It feels like I’m rocking
you to sleep. Breathe softly. You never change
what you are, you just react to what you feel
around you. Past midnight, you’ll wake and
rattle the floorboards again.

Matthew Miller teaches social studies, swings tennis rackets, and writes poetry – all hoping to create a home. He lives beside a dilapidating apple orchard in Indiana, and tries to shape the dead trees into playhouses for his four boys. His poetry has been published in The Flying Island, PAN-O-PLY and Your Daily Poem.

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29 Jun

Never Truly Empty

Taking Flight No Response

It usually starts with a feather or a flutter of wings. Maybe a bit of bird dung on the welcome mat. That’s how I know the doves have returned, that my front porch has become a nesting ground. I don’t know why they come back every year, what’s so appealing about the corrugated metal top of the porch light they choose for their roost, what promise of protection they have from the terracotta tiles above. I suppose they feel safe here, sheltered from nature’s whims and threats. Albeit for only a part of their year, it’s somehow their home. 

As an adult with three grown children who’ve moved across the world, I’ve thought a lot about what makes a home. Whether it’s the tangibles: a favorite pillow or mug, the TRX hung at the ready, the souvenir knickknacks on the shelf, the books and photographs that document a lifetime.  Or instead, whether it’s the intangibles: the echoes of tears and laughter, screams of delight and horror, the memory of a broken heart, a celebration, and all the messiness and chaos of decades of living. 

Stepping over the tiny sticks, the bundles of fluff, the smears of eggs gone bad and rejected, I sense the physical loss of my own offspring, the ways my house has been transformed by their departure, by what is now missing. And I wonder, if that means it’s any less a home.

But I know better. Because it’s not about the structure, the feathers and padding we use to make it soft and welcoming. All that is evanescent, able to crumble, disintegrate, or drift away. It’s about the lingering remnants of a presence, about actual beating hearts. 

Because once they’ve marked their territory, with a blink, a smile, a step, or a flutter–with broken shells, abandoned slippers, crushed twigs, or an old bicycle, there remains the more definite imprint of a life force. The chicks can fly the coop, and they do, but the house forever retains the undeniable memory of lives lived. 

Caroline Goldberg Igra has published numerous peer-reviewed articles in international, academic art history journals, a book on the work of WWII artist J. D. Kirszenbaum (Somogy Éditions d’Art, 2013) and a novel, “Count to a Thousand,” (Mandolin Publishing, 2018). She blogs for the Times of Israel.  

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29 Jun

The Handkerchief

Taking Flight No Response

In her room, my mother has a small vanity. A large round mirror hangs above and attaches to the vanity; two drawers on either side and a long narrow drawer stand below the mirror. The vanity is covered in paper, made to look like wood. Some corners curl up, ready to be pulled and peeled back. I pick at the edge and pull loose a sliver of paper above the right drawer.

In the right drawer, among her colorful silk scarves, gloves, and sashes, I find a white handkerchief with lacey scalloped edges and small flowers delicately embroidered on each corner. I lift the handkerchief. The scent of my mother’s perfume splashes across my face. I cover my nose and inhale long and hard, hoping to erase the memory of antiseptic hope and sour disease. But I can’t stop thinking that as the medics rolled my mother away, I did not say goodbye.

In the middle drawer, she keeps all her make-up and some of her jewelry. I pick up her Mary Kay lip color palate: Tawny Beige, Frosted Melon, and Frosted Poppy. Using her lip applique, I paint the Frosted Poppy on my lips. I look in the mirror to see past my own to my mother’s reflection. She sat on her hospital bed, smiling a painted smile, because even after surgery, she wanted to look and feel good. She wanted me to look and feel good, too. “Never leave the house without your makeup,” she told me. But now I’m only 15, and I’ve painted on my lips more Frosted Poppy than I need.

The drawer on the left houses my mother’s silky stockings in nude, black, and white, each rolled up into a neat ball. She would make me wear stockings with my dress to church every Sunday. I didn’t like it then, becoming a woman, squeezing my soft parts into the stretchy tubes. But I don’t mind it now, unrolling the shear black silky nylon and slipping my right foot into it, pulling it up past my knee. I’ll assume my mother’s mantle, even though I have no one to show me how. I’ll carry that load, as if it’s the world, for the rest of my life.

I pick up the handkerchief, again. That’s the smell I want to remember: the floral fragrance of Sweet Honesty. I need it to blanket the memories that hurt the most: the coffin opened before us, my family standing behind me, my sister clutching my hand. She let go for a moment to step closer, reached out hesitantly to touch our mother’s hand, but pulled it away quickly. “She’s cold,” my sister whispered and buried her face in my stomach. I’m crying now, gasping for breath, drowning in the ocean of what will never be.

When I am done, I fold the handkerchief in half, then in quarters, then in small triangles. I trap it, its smells and its memories, in a plastic baggy and slip it under my mattress for when I need to remember, again.

Joelle Hannah lives in Moorpark, CA with her husband and 5 children. She teaches composition classes at Moorpark College. She has been writing and performing poetry since 2005. Her poems have appeared in The Scribbler, The Night Goes On All Night, Bridges of Fate Anthology, Chaparral, Two Words For, Where I Live, Mothers Always Write, and A Quiet Courage. She has performed in various venues throughout Ventura and Los Angeles Counties, including Hollywood Book Fair, Artist Union Gallery, Pat Pincus Poetry Festival, and Personal Stories at Center Theater in Santa Barabara.

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