Sometimes it’s not about the writing…

The Last Sunday Writer’s Blog is about celebrating our writing and our writing successes, about trying out new things, giving kudos where kudos is needed.  On one day last week, November 3, kudos could be found in droves for three of our writers, Rossana D’Antonio, Laura Hoopes and Lisa De Long.

Rossana organizes and hosts the Power Works Women’s Leadership Conference held annually in Montebello. The theme this year was the Power of You.  There were over six hundred attendees, eleven speakers, tons of sponsors, and delicious food.  It was a celebration of women – the strengths and passions that lead to leadership.

Laura L. Mays Hoopes, Ph.D, Halstead-Bent Professor of Biology, Department of Biology, Pomona College spoke about her memoir Breaking Through the Spiral Ceiling – leadership through passion and perseverance.  Lisa DeLong, author of “Blood Brothers” and activist in the fight against Leukemia, spoke on her journey of leadership through adversity.    Congratulations to our TLS writers!  And a shout out to Rob Daly, video/sound system/computer guru extraordinaire – we await the video presentation of our writers speaking!

Here are some photos showing our writers in the throngs of fans!


Written by Barbara Straus

For the first time in years I don’t hear the TV blaring as I approach the door of her apartment.   I use the key she gave me when she started spending less time outside and more time in her high back Ethan Allen chair watching TV, reading large print mysteries, and doing crossword puzzles.   Marcy’s worn SAS walking shoes, once taking her miles to the bus stop then to Hollywood park for an afternoon at the races, rest side by side next to her chair.

The stillness hangs heavy in the air like a black cloud weighted with rain.  Stepping inside, I wonder if this section of floor — right here by the door– is where she’d fallen.  Or was it over there, just below the coffee table, where a dark streak of something unthinkable stains the tan carpet?  Had she cried out when she realized she couldn’t get up?  Were her yells for help directed towards the dozens of photographs of me and my family scattered around her tiny studio apartment?  Did her voice carry above and beyond the drone of the Lifetime movies?  Oh the phone, just out of reach, up on the kitchen counter.  Did she count how many days turned into nights and back into days until the fire department finally broke down her door?

Every chair and square inch of the couch contains a handmade needlepoint pillow designed from photos of my childhood pets.  I pile them in a huge moving box, sure that one day I’ll un-stuff them and sew them together into a quilt. Over the 30 years she worked at my parents’ house, whenever homegrown chaos ensued, Marcy was in the next room dusting furniture.  Or cleaning windows.  Bringing order.  Bearing witness.

On this day I approach the filing cabinet in the middle of her closet with trepidation, having no clue what I’ll find. Unlocking the top drawer I see impeccably organized files — bank statements, receipts, social security card, birth certificate, bills.  Evidence of her life.  Of her death.  Insignificant pieces of paper. My ears throb from the quiet.

I yank sweat suits and nightgowns from their pink plastic hangers and quickly toss them into the box with underwear, bras, heating pads, sheets and blankets.  The faster I work, the less I notice.  Salvation.  Army.  Then I come across her red Pea coat.  Marcy used to take the bus across town for an afternoon of games and deli sandwiches with me and the children.  From blocks away, I could see the tiny dot of her bright red pea coat grow as she’d steadily make the uphill trek to my house.  When she arrived, the first thing she’d do was hang up that coat, sweep the children into her arms, then sit on the sofa and brush my daughter’s long brown hair into spun gold, just as she used to mine.

After Marcy became homebound I’d regularly bring her pictures of family and school events.  She had no one else. While enjoying cheeseburger happy meals and diet cokes we’d take our time removing the old ones from her extra large corkboard, and tacking up the new.  My guilt over leaving was ameliorated by knowing that her next few hours would be filled with transferring the loose photos into albums.  Towers of red, pink and blue albums, (that’s where she’d put them) line the perimeter of her closet.

The tiny studio apartment glows golden with afternoon sun, an unfamiliar sight since family dinner would always call me home by this hour. I missed dinner today in order to pack Marcy’s life into labeled moving boxes bound for a homeless shelter and black trash bags forced down the chute.  Her cherished furniture enthusiastically offered in high resolution photos on Craig’s list. Excellent Condition.  Like New!

I open a window.  Sounds of the street 4 floors below pour in like ocean waves, diluting the ivory soap scent of Marcy and the parts of me she held for safekeeping.

Poetical Anniversaries

written by Laura Beasley

Every year for an anniversary present, my husband and I find poems to read to each other.  It is our island of romance in a storm-tossed marital sea.    There are some years when it would be easier to buy a gift.

Our wedding for twenty-five guests at the Deer Park Villa Restaurant cost less than four figures.  We had written our own vows, which included some of our favorite poetry and song lyrics.  We were lucky with our choice of a minister from the Yellow Pages who advised us, “In difficult times, look at your ring and remember this beautiful day.”

For our first anniversary, I chose these pragmatic words by Amy Lowell:  Now you are like morning bread, I hardly taste you at all for I know your savor, but I am completely nourished. Bob responded with e. e. cummings: i like kissing this and that of you.  The only time when we selected the same poem to read to one another promising there ain’t no nothing we can’t love each other through (lyrics to the theme of Family Ties) was followed by one of our saddest years.

Expecting absolute devotion, I used poetry to enforce fidelity, insisting  that we spend every single anniversary together.  After Bob’s return from an optional business trip to Germany, I tearfully read to him I never dreamed  you’d leave in summer and now I find my love has gone away (Stevie Wonder).  He responded with I marry you all dark and all dawn and have my laugh at death (John Ciardi).

Years later our children joined our anniversary celebrations.  In 1990 (after a dinner for four at Burger King), we read our poems in our backyard between breastfeeding and toddler-chasing.  I chanted Nibble, nibble, nibble goes the mouse in my heart (Margaret Wise Brown) and Bob read to me, Bob Dylan’s words: If you want me, honey baby, I’ll be here.

I usually wait until the last minute to search for my gift-poem, but in 2000, diagnosed with lymphoma and weak from chemotherapy, I expended my limited energy to find the poem for the next anniversary almost a year early.  I put it where Bob could find it after my death:  Tell me right now, am I the one who inspires all your dark thoughts, all your sadness? (Nigar Hanim).

Happily, I have lived beyond cancer to share more anniversaries with my high school sweetheart.  This year’s anniversary celebration in a bluff-side park included reading more than fifty poems we’ve collected over twenty-five years.  After I read, How can I leap to the heights of refrigerators weighted like this? (Ellen Bass), Bob shared John Ciardi’s poem about a marriage that is most like an arch– two weaknesses that lean into a strength.

I never thought we were creating a special tradition.  As a young bride, I assumed we would spend hours and hours reading poetry to each other.  But now, years later, our marriage has included financial struggles and life-threatening illnesses as well as romance and passion.  Even in the darkness of depression, even when I felt more anger than affection, I have read poetry  at least once a year to the man I married on August 4th, 1978.

The Inner Ear

written by Mary Rose Betten

Once I stood with a friend looking down at a lake where wild geese floated in quiet fancy.  Out of the blue she asked, “ Are you at home in the world?” Eyes fastened on symmetry I answered, ‘Yes,” and promised myself never to forget the peace of my yes, floating and gliding above the feral geese.

Back in Illinois when I was eighteen, the summer of ’54, I found myself pregnant without benefit of marriage. I had won a scholarship in camp counseling to a girls camp near Canada; a one way ticket out.  I needed only to  graduate and go. I stumbled through high school graduation from a Catholic girls academy, a miracle since in those days pregnant girls were forbidden graduation.  At  the camp I stayed till I could no longer zip my uniform then slipped off to a small town in upstate New York, gave birth and relinquished the child to Catholic Charities.  For the second time I left town; and headed for “The Big Apple,” where I was given a choice to a cherished profession;  character actress.  Back home no one, including my parents ever knew I gave birth.  Both died never knowing this up-state grandchild existed.  Now I have been married forty years, we have one child.    When she turned 18 I shared she has a half sister and a few years ago proceeded with the paper work necessary to locate my first child to no avail.  Never in all this time had I ever said aloud the name of the upstate N.Y. town where I gave birth fearing my tongue might knot.

Just seven days ago I attended a poetry conference.  We broke for lunch and gathered on the lawn with plates of fancy tuna salad.  A poetess I admire was telling how she came to be a fast eater.  “My family was so big, I grew up in——.”  And she said the name. Said aloud in front of God and all those salad eaters the dreaded small town name that sounds like a bird flying against a closed window. I choked on my tuna salad, and went inside.

For the remainder of the afternoon I couldn’t bring myself to look at the woman who trippingly pronounced that name that resonates with someone landing face-down on concrete.  Poets continued reading aloud, affirming, sharing thoughts,  testing words with the grace of  humming birds and butterflies.  But the hummingbirds hummed against my forhead and the butterflies settled in my stomach.  I left early.

Driving home I thought of names I had been called as a child, soul-piercing names like my brothers dubbing  me, Mary Nose.  The harsh nun who forbid  me name my child.  The sounds of assurance my cat makes kneading my thigh, how applause modulates to standing ovation, how my husband announces love,  the ahhhs following fireworks, how na-na-na-na-na connotes spite in any language.  How never again will I  taste tuna salad without hearing;  Plattsburgh!  Plattsburgh!  Plattsburgh!