Dirt Poor Mohawk

As a child, my Uncle Emo was the only person in my narrow world who dared to be different. He was authentically oblivious to how others viewed him.

In 1954, Emo was 17 years old and I was 6. I was told by my mother I would be joining my grandparents, Pearl and Bully, on a road trip to pick up Emo from camp at the opposite end of our state. My great aunts, Audrey and Evil Jessie, also came along. We piled into Bully's old Chevy, with Bully himself at the wheel. He didn't believe that rules of the road applied to him, including speed limits, red lights, or any other restrictions for that matter. I sat sandwiched in the back seat with Pearl on one side, Evil Jessie on the other, and Audrey next to her. As a treat, Pearl handed out tomatoes. I bit into my small ripe tomato, the juice of which ran like a red river down my chin, creating havoc with my freshly ironed favorite yellow sundress. I waited for that tomato to taste like a treat but it never did.

After a long day of Bully's driving antics, we stopped for the night at a precursor of the modern day motel. It was a nasty, joyless, no-frills, one-room roadside cabin. There was a pot to piss in under the bed and nearby woods for other business.

The next day when we arrived at the camp, we spotted Emo dressed like an Native American Indian, sporting an audacious mohawk haircut. We all stood there frozen and speechless. Finally, Evil Jessie said "Well, I swan'."

Stunned, I remember absolutely nothing of the ride home. As young as I was I knew this look was not going to be well received in our small southern town, but Emo didn't care in the least. Later in life I recognized Uncle Emo for the beacon of hope he was for me. Being raised in the restrictive mindset prevalent of our town and time, he unknowingly provided me permission to roam free in the safety of my imagination. Uncle Emo showed me it was possible, it was all possible.

The Ovary

Another hot day. The asphalt is smoldering as I step out onto its hotness. If I stood long enough, I might go up in flames. My head is spinning, my heart banging inside the walls of my chest. The smell of sickness still lingering in my nostrils gives me a headache. Long hours, long walks in and out of the place we go to mend, or be mended. 

The surgeon calls me into the waiting conference room. My belly is filled with anxiety, with questions, with what ifs. The tumor didn’t look good, he said. Wait, wasn’t I just here, in this same position a year ago, with my husband whom laid in the mending room? Weren’t those the same words? “Wake me up! Please.” The doctor continues with his details about what was taken, what was left, what might be, “CANCER.” His furrowed brow, deep and concentrated, described well what to expect. The doctor said during pre-op that on occasion he is surprised, but in my daughter’s case he didn’t expect, to be surprised. However, this was one of those unexpected, times. The doctor projected a benign tumor, clear of complications. But, this was not uncomplicated, this is going to be complicated. 

My heart sank, like a long lingering teardrop falling into an endless pool of worries. I decided to hang on to the fifty percent chance the tumor was not a cancer. Fifty/fifty can go either way. My focus turned to the positive half of possibility. Though, in my gut, I seemed to already know the truth about the other half, of the half. 

Out of recovery, I walked down the near silent cancer patient’s hall to where my girl would battle mending. I push the heavy door open, wash my hands as my eyes scan the room. She laid there, covered in a single sterile sheet; the person laying there with clear plastic tubes pushing life into her arm, and a tube down her nose sucking out sorrowful toxins, for a second was unrecognizable. No one warns you that the person who enters into surgery returns someone else. No one expected a radical surgery to begin with, or a stripping of womanhood, erasing the parts one is born with. I wanted to sling her over my back and get out of there. I wanted to take it all back, all of the surprises and make it all beautiful. But, instead, I sat anchored to the visiting person’s chair, helpless. 

The pain! She shouted. The pain, it’s too much! Help me!!! Why is she in so much pain? I ask the nurses who were busy entering information into the computer. The cry of pain didn’t budge their fingers from keys typing madly. I had to control my urge to yell, or throw the keyboard onto the floor just to get the busy nurses attention. Once again I ask, why is my daughter in so much pain, - the epidural should be working, right? Finally a nurse spun on her heals and replied. The incision made is higher than was anticipated, so the epidural isn’t reaching that part. What? I thought. So, what will you do to ease that part of her pain? The nurse then explained that: “The surgeon is the only one who can prescribe additional medication.” Okay, I said in trapped frustration, then please do let the surgeon know that my daughter’s pain is not controlled as soon as possible. 

Within the hour an additional pain medication was ordered. My daughter slept restlessly; her face grimacing from time to time. She woke from dreams that were still living, her eyes locked on images only she could see. Incoherently, and often questions fumbled out of her mouth, Do I have cancer Mom? Was it a cancer? Mom? Mom? Tell me please! Her questions would soften, easing into a drug induced slumber, sweeping her away into another place. I hoped the places she visited in her dreams were lovely, unlike the reality she would soon face. 

The answer to those questions came two weeks later and a week after I had flown back home to Virginia. Montana is a long way away to learn that indeed my daughter had an ovarian cancerous tumor that ruptured into her body. Chemotherapy, port, and more medications, all came with that diagnosis. Though, I am here and she is there, we are together, there are only miles separating us. Phone calls, daily encouragement, tears, tears, and more tears are realities. The impact cancer has on families is different for each person. As a mother, I am heavy-hearted, but, I know no matter what happens, cancer can’t defeat love, it can’t take us, from each other.

 

Rhonda is retired and surviving MS. She has had her poetry published in a Chronogram, a New York arts and culture magazine in 2005 and 2012. Rhonda has had the pleasure of taking classes with Valley while living in Richmond in 2012 and 2016. In addition, she has taken poetry writing classes through the Visual Arts Center of Richmond, VA. Cancer impacts lives, slows lives down, takes a little goodness off the top, but can not crack love-bonds.

The Nightshirt

The first time I had to leave my daughter overnight, I gave her my blue nightshirt. It was the oversized shirt I wore throughout my pregnancy, and it was the shirt I continued to wear (almost exclusively) after she was born, shuffling around dreamily in that new mother haze. In those days, the shirt held all the raw smells of milk and sleep and skin.

She took the shirt, and I never got it back. She named it “Boo-Boosh,” which she pronounced (inexplicably) like a Russian word, with hard Bs and a drawn out shhh at the end. To this day, no one else can quite pronounce “Boo-Boosh” the way it emerged decisively from her two-year-old lips.

I was rarely apart from my daughter when she was a toddler, but Boo-Boosh became a sacred bridge between us when we had to separate. This shirt was not a thing she carelessly dragged around like some ordinary security blanket. Boo-Boosh stayed tucked under her pillow to preserve its holy smells. When I lay down with her at night, my daughter would smell my chest, smell Boo-Boosh, making sure nothing had changed from either source. Sometimes she needed me to recharge Boo-Boosh by stuffing it under my shirt for a while, smearing it all over my body.

Over time, Boo-Boosh went from being an “it” to being a “her.” Before bed, my daughter would ask, “where is she?” and we would have to find her, balled up in the tangle of blankets from the night before.

As my daughter got older, she would hide Boo-Boosh in the closet when friends came over. I thought she was embarrassed to still be harboring the remnants of her babyhood, but it was that she didn’t want anyone else touching it, tarnishing the smell. 

I’m not permitted to wash Boo-Boosh, and when I sniff her now, all I smell is a dirty shirt and my nine-year-old daughter’s bed. The smell is more her than me, but I’m not even sure where the separation occurs. 

Sometimes when I am exercising at the gym, I get a strong whiff of the way my babies smelled in those early, romantic days when we lived together in the crumbled sheets of my bed, and then I realize that it’s coming from my own sweat, my own body.

Boo-Boosh is a tattered, blue nightshirt. She is me, her, our indistinguishable animal cells.

 

Ashland, VA

The Courage to Continue

I think the most painful rejections in my writing career have been those who started off as yeses. I first experienced this with my novel Amethyst Epiphany.

Just recently I have dealt with this in my manuscript Phoenix Tears.

I will find a home for these books yet, but I must admit that the sting hurts more than just a direct no. I pour my heart and soul into my writing so to me it feels as if a piece of me has been rejected rather than just a body of writing.

I remind myself that rejections as painful as they can be are a part of the natural process of writing. It's happened to many famous authors like J.K. Rowling, Anne Rice, and F. Scott Fitzgerald to name a few.

So I'm going to keep putting myself out there again and again and get my books published because as Winston Churchill said, "Success is never final; failure is never fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts."

So, I will take courage and press on. I don't have a choice because I didn't choose writing—it chose me. Which I know sounds cliche but it's no less true. 

I have a dream, and I'm going to both believe in it and myself. I can't quit on myself before I even begin. I have too much to accomplish.

 

Meadville, PA

Linda M. Crate is a Pennsylvanian author born in Pittsburgh yet raised in the rural town of Conneautville. Her works have been published in numerous magazines and anthologies both online and in print. She is the author of The Magic Series and three published chapbooks: A Mermaid Crashing Into Dawn, Less Than A Man, and If Tomorrow Never Comes.

Highlands

she was full & smelled sweetly like summer
her star-spangled cheeks
crinkled upward

the wind that streamed in from car windows mountainsides
her laugh as wild as the flowers woven into her hair
the meadows full of tall grass left untouched

doe in the headlights, skin soft & fresh
grassy feet morning dew
fresh bread in a log cabin
disarm, disarm

watching it storm in the valley from the top of the ferris wheel
painted-up skies that fade to stars the maps of her constellations
a love ripe & succulent & fleeting as the peach juice running down her chin

 

Richmond, VA

 "illuminating all the motionless world of time between"

Reality of Now

I want to be there. 
I want to be there with the lightening and the thudding thunder
thanking me for my humble wholeness that fuels my ongoing want to overcome
the things that are painful. 

The curving coast of that cotton state hit with dust and racism is waiting. 
Waiting on the other side of the Gulf, 
waiting to embrace me with those
dry winds and flatlands that house
such stubby little shrubs that match the amount
of love that I've been giving to my home town. 

I am coming home. 
I am coming home to that place that I create
wherever I go. 
Wherever I go I'll find peace amongst the
coastal communities and barrier islands, 
I'll sit in amber light under vines and wonder where the time
between sweet then and the reality of now has gone. 
It's for the better that I not question it.

 

Corpus Christi, TX

Digital Enlightenment

A monochrome of white
a silence teeming with few packets
of acoustic micro-cosmoses
everything seems to melt like an ice-cream
to form an unthinkable rapture
of pure nothingness. 

I need a kick, or a kiss
to come back to the real world
of grainy virtuals.

 

Kathmandu, Nepal

Sudeep Adhikari is a structural engineer/Lecturer from Kathmandu, Nepal. His poetry has found place in many online/print literary journals, the recent being Red Fez , Kyoto , Your One Phone Call, Jawline Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, Yellow Mama, Fauna Quarterly, Beatnik Cowboys and After The Pause.

Opinions Aren't Facts

Debates lately rather alarm me. It seems some people are more concerned with being witty and right than remembering they are arguing with another living, breathing being with thoughts and perceptions of their own. 

Whatever happened to agreeing to disagree? People aren't always going to agree and that's okay. Seeing eye to eye on everything isn't necessary. However, arguing and debating in a respectful way is a must. Too often people are throwing insults and hate at one another over the most petty of things. What sort of example does that give to the next generations?

We need to remember common decency and treating others with the respect and dignity one would lavish upon themselves.

We need to remember tact and kindness. There are some opinions and people I don't particularly like or agree with, but I can be decent to a person regardless of their opinions in order to keep the peace.

We have to choose our battles wisely. some issues are important to discuss, but we have to do so in a way that doesn't pit friends and family against one another.

Because at the end of the day love is the only thing that can save us. It is more important to be kind than to have the answer to everything.

Opinions aren't facts. They're emotion based perceptions and people of two differing opinions can both be right or they can both be wrong. It depends on how they approach the subject and conduct themselves accordingly. So many battles are so unnecessary. We just have to learn to communicate properly, leaving drama where it belongs...in the theater.

 

Meadville, VA

Linda M. Crate is writer whose works have appeared in many magazines and anthologies both online and in print. She is the author of three published chapbooks, The Magic Series, and the forthcoming Phoenix Tears. You can find her at facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/Linda-M-Crate-129813357119547/.

Spare the Garden

Don’t sacrifice the sweet Joe Pye weed. Our friend Joe first told me what it is and killed himself about a year later.

Don’t sacrifice the witch hazel. It will anchor the fairy forest when everything is older.
Spare the shadbush and swamp milkweed. Both were mowed down last year by your cousin’s children and have made an impressive comeback.

Save the dwarf irises. You wanted them, after all. Ditto for the maidenhair fern, Christmas fern, and lady fern, all of which I also like.

Don’t let them trample the black cohosh. It withered last summer when the rain garden failed to work as planned, but look how broadly it has spread its leaves. 

Keep them away from the wild geraniums and the woodland columbine. Each has flowered for the first time. Let them go to seed.

Let them trample the Solomon seal. It’s the Asian variety, not the native one I wanted, and you like it more than I do, anyway. 

The strawberries are probably safe, tucked away. The violets will also come back if stomped, unlike me.

The dog’s ashes are under the fox sedge. The kennel had called when we were states away. I felt like the President ordering a drone strike, to bring death out of the blue to a far-off land. The vet was kind and put her to sleep. 

Think of the bees, the butterflies, the hummingbirds, the cardinals, Carolina wrens, and the chipmunk in the shade. The nectars, the pollens, the seeds. 

You said I planted the garden in a way that only I could enjoy. It is not mine to control.

 

Richmond, VA

Kate Harlow

For over 30 years I passed the same mailbox on my way to my grandparent’s house. “Kate Harlow” it said, in capital shiny black and gold letters. As a child I honed in on the name sounded like it belonged to a T.V. news anchor, which was my dream job. But the mailbox didn’t sit across the street from the type of house I imagined a news anchor owned. Instead, it belonged to a white trailer with a plastic awning, blue shutters and ceramic geese in the front lawn.

Often Kate sat on her front porch, which was covered in astroturf. She smoked a cigarette as she watched the cars go by. Who knows what she thought about. 

Every summer, Thanksgiving and Christmas I caught glimpses of Kate from the backseat of my parent’s various cars. She never changed, always in the same metal yard chair, the kind that looked like it belonged in one of my grandparent’s kodachrome photo albums.

As the years went on, Kate’s posture in the chair curled. Her clothes grew shabby and dated. The grass around the geese on the front lawn wasn’t quite as well trimmed. Kate’s face began to betray signs of loneliness. Or maybe I just read into it. I would be lonely. There was never another name on her mailbox. Never another person on the porch with her. Never even another car in the gravel driveway.

Seven years ago I moved into my grandparents house, and now I pass Kate’s house every day. One day this spring, Kate was no longer on her porch. A few weeks later, a “For Sale” sign appeared in the ditch between her yard and the busy road.

“On no! Kate Harlow!” I said to my husband.

“What are you talking about?” he said. He had never noticed the mailbox. 

“Kate Harlow. She always lived in this house,” I said, pointing to the trailer as we drove to church.

“You know her?”

“No. I’ve never met her. I just know her name from her mailbox. But I think she died, her house is for sale,” I said.

“Maybe she didn’t die. Maybe she just moved in with one of her children, or into a nursing home.”

Two weeks later the For Sale sign was gone and a truck appeared in the driveway with what looked like new wood paneling, I’m assuming for the inside of the trailer. Yesterday I drove by and saw a man in his fifties carefully using a X-acto knife to remove Kate’s name from the mailbox.

She’s gone.

 

Charlottesville, VA

Kristin Sancken is a parent, writer and social worker who has been published in Huffington Post and The Guardian. To view her other work visit www.sancken.com