Time to Write

bird against cloud

I feel the ache in my bones

The need to get home

Seconds before

Becoming fully aware

Of what my world

Is telling me

Like the eerieness

Before the tornado siren


Certain details shout to me

Not everything

Just some things

The lone bird in the sky

Too big, too black

Against the too muted

Too bright clouds

Its song amplified

Notice me, it trills

While cars

Move beneath it

Muffled, too quiet


In comparison

With half an eye on the bird

Half an ear, too

I squash the urge

To go home, now

And enter the library

Spooked, knowing

Clutching a memoir

Just finished

Someone’s story

Another one imploring me

To write my own

I keep finding them

Or they find me

Reading them

As they read me

Recognizing that longing

To get it out

Preserve it

A wax man stares

As if expecting me

Already making eye contact

Before I’m even there

Holding it

Without moving

As I go by

And drop that memoir

That someone else’s story

Down the slot

He’s frozen

I know

Just so I will take in

All the details of him

That urge to write


The library, ahead

In slow motion

As I move quickly through it

To the holds

To a book I look forward to

On the shelf, in my slot

Where I’m expecting it

But still a surprise

I take it


As to how it got there

Another memoir

Another somebody’s story

Another person

Calling to know mine

The beep of my library card

Too loud, to me

But no one else hears it

No one notices

Just the one who needs to write

About what

The world is proclaiming today

Making me ache

To commemorate

The details

Take note, it screams

Make note, it pleads

I feel it

It’s time to write my story

But I’ve picked up this book

This book on hold

Now in my hold


Someone else’s story

And so I must decide

Write or read

Read or write

One makes me crave the other

The other has me coveting the first

A poem, I decide

Just for now

Satisfying, but fast and short

To the point

Its end in sight

So I can pick up that book

Get started

Knowing I’ll be moved

To write

My story


Next time.

Breaking Night – A Book Sampling

BreakBreaking Nighting Night by Liz Murray. Fiction.

This is a memoir of survival and forgiveness and journeying from homeless to Harvard.

It is remarkable what some children live through. Lizzy grew up in the Bronx and somehow survived her parents’ drug addiction and what that meant for her – being a caretaker at a young age, constantly being dirty and hungry, and being teased at school about her lice-infested hair. Her family fell apart when she was 13 and she dropped out of school and lived on the streets. It is a miracle she was not raped or mugged or anything worse as she slept at various friends’ houses, in cheap motels and stair landings, and on the subway and rooftops.

The story is quite detailed, almost day-to-day, from preschool to age 20 or so. It provides a good picture of the life of a “clean” homeless teen. Most of the writing is straightforward and not lyrical and flowery. A few passages, toward the end of the story, especially, stuck with me.


I was inspired by a question that kept repeating itself in my mind:  Could I really change my life? I’d spent so many days, weeks, months, and years thinking about doing things with my life, and now I wanted to know, if I committed to a goal and woke up every single day working at it, could I change my life?


I had to study while also learning how to study. I wrote an essay… while learning about essay writing, and while learning how to type, all at once. I did so by tapping a single button at a time, frustrating myself with countless mistakes, messing up and starting again and again and again.


This was the environment in which I finally came to my education, the environment in which I knew I could no longer lie in bed and give up. How could I pull the blanket back over my head when I knew my teachers were waiting for me? When they were willing to work so hard, how could I not do the same?


It’s not that I never stole again, because truthfully, I did. But that day was the beginning of my never stealing again, and it was the start of a long process of me understanding that I was not, in fact, an island unto myself.


This author, the person who really lived this life, seems to have no regrets. She’s forgiven her parents, holds no ill will for her neighborhood and how she grew up, and realizes in hindsight that most of her teachers were there for her, in some way or another or often in many ways. She shows us a plane of America with which most readers won’t be familiar, not just the horrible aspects of it, but the good as well.


Keeping It True

My dad doesn’t read my blog; he doesn’t do much on the computer other than occasional emails. But I wanted him to know of The Bottle of Whiskey, so I called him and, after the usual catching up on his health, a few jokes, and a couple of the same old stories, I read it to him.

It wasn’t easy. My dad is judgmental and mildly critical and I wasn’t sure how he would react to this short memoir in which he was the main character.

But I wanted him to hear it, because in this story he is portrayed as a hero.

So, I took a deep breath and began reading. I read slowly enough that he could take it all in, but fast enough that he wouldn’t give up on it, get lost or tired of listening before I got to the end. Besides the pacing, I had to manage my breathing. It’s always been hard for me to read something over the phone. I can’t maintain my usual, involuntary breathing pattern. I think I forget to breathe. Then I have to force myself to breathe and my rhythm gets all messed up.

When I got to the end of the story, he said, “Well, that’s a dream.”

The story was mostly memoir, mostly from my memory of a time when I was eight years old. I knew it wasn’t all true; there was no way it could be. I was recounting something that happened nearly 40 years earlier, when I was a small child, barely of the age of remembering. And I hadn’t asked any questions, hadn’t done any fact checking.

“First of all, it was 80 acres. Not 24. And half of it was leased from the Indians. We had a five-year lease.”

“Oh yeah, 80 acres, that’s right.” I had written 24. “The ranch was 80 acres and the farm was 24.”

“And, second, we never met any Indians down there. Not at night. Not when we were all in the truck.”

“Really? Well, I know you met some Indians down there some time. I remember the story.”

“You weren’t there. It was Roxy.” My older sister.

“Are you sure? Because it’s really vivid in my mind. I must have heard you talking about it or heard the story a few times over the years.”

“And, Jesus, if anyone ever pointed guns at me, I wouldn’t have offered them a bottle of whiskey. I would have killed the assholes. But, I liked your story. I like how you write. It was a good story.”

It was a good story. I’ll take that, coming from my dad.

A few weeks later, I called him again to visit. I had mailed the story to him after reading it over the phone. I knew he would enjoy reading it and that he’d read it over and over. He probably had his red pen out, making notes of all my mis-memories.

We weren’t on the phone but a couple of minutes before he started talking about the story. “It wasn’t Jennings Road we turned on to get to the ranch and that wasn’t the Jennings’ place. It was the Youngs.”

“Oh yeah, I remember now that you mention it! Bill Young. Yep, it was Bill Young’s place that reeked of silage. And who had the dog that chased us every time we drove by? I can’t remember that guy’s name, but I’d know it if I heard it.”

“I don’t remember either. But we’d go down to the end of that road there and there was Delfelder Hall.”

“Delfelder Hall! I can picture it. What’d they ever use that building for anyway?”

“Oh, just meetings out there. For the ranching community. And right past that was Leo Wambolt’s place.”

“That’s it! Leo Wambolt! He had the collie that always bit our tires as we went by. And is this right? If we didn’t turn right to get to our ranch, just kept going straight, we’d get to the sugar beets, right?”

“Yes. There was a sugar beet dump there for a while.”

I could picture the huge pile of sugar beets. “Why were they piled up there anyway?” I ask my dad.

“That’s where they loaded them on the train.”

We exchanged several more stories and memories about the ranch, which we had from the time I was six to about ten, at which time we moved to a farm that was much closer to town. As we talked, my dad seemed to relax and realize that I was a young girl at the time, that it was impossible for my memories to be accurate.

My dad is an amazing source of rich memories and amusing chronicles—not just of what actually happened but because of the funny ways he tells them, the vivid details and rough and somewhat inappropriate language he uses to recount the days at our ranch.

I could spend hours listening to him and I could take notes and I could incorporate more truth into my story called The Bottle of Whiskey. And I could write many more stories about the ranch and then several tales about things that happened at the farm over the years, too.

But if I did it that way, they would be his stories.

And what I want to write is my stories. Like The Bottle of Whiskey. My stories might not be all true, but they represent what I recall, how I remember our times at the ranch, what it was like from the point of view of an eight-year-old girl, a little girl who, on that night, felt safe tucked next to her dad in the crowded cab of the old Ford truck, a little girl who watched a silent film, a scary movie, through the windshield, in which her father starred, in which he saved the day and saved his family. I want to write my dad as that hero.

I’ll listen to his tales, his corrections, his truths. But at the same time I’ll try my hardest to not let them overshadow the way I remember things happening. Because I’ve got my own tale, my own truth, and, in the end, what I want to do is keep it true.

A Piece of Memoir (2)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALife was good at that point and things had fallen into place in such a way that I wasn’t afraid of the future. Though, of course, I’d been in this place before in life—when everything seemed to be following a sensible path—and knew it wasn’t a guarantee for anything. I was far enough out now, and healed not just emotionally, but healthier, too, physically, mentally, and spiritually. I could look back at the time when it wasn’t so good, when it was downright frightening, and realize that my current situation, my outlook—my own amazing view—was because my trail in life hadn’t been straight, hadn’t continued to be as obvious and well-marked as when I first set out. Not only did it become crooked and winding, making it more challenging the further I traveled, but I took a few wrong turns, stepped off course, sometimes, I’m afraid, intentionally. I climbed more than was necessary, walked in circles, backtracked, laid down more miles than I thought I would or ever could. It was easy to see now, as I looked back, where I had made a wrong turn. But it was those wrong turns, the uncertainty, the strength required to press on, the requisite problem solving, and even the necessity to blaze some new paths of my own, that brought me to where I am now. And where I am is a better place than where I set out for. I like what I have discovered, what I now understand, and where I stand.

The Bottle of Whiskey

Seven miles north of town at 75 miles per hour. In the warmer months, I ride in the back of the 1970 green Ford truck. But, now, I’m squeezed between my older sister and my father, my boots tucked under his gas pedal leg. Next to my sister is my mom and on her lap my little brother. We always sit in the same spots; it’s the only way we fit.

I know the way, even in the dark, even though I’m only eight and can barely see over the dashboard. Turn right on Jennings Road, pass the Jennings farm. I remember stopping there once for a few hours. The reeking silage was so pervasive, so inescapable, I thought I might vomit. Go left at the end of this road and pass the farm with the collie, the one who always tries to bite our tires. Don’t slow down, no need to, he does it every time and we haven’t run over him yet. Turn right and come upon the Reno place. There’s a girl there who is my age named Charla. I think we could be best friends because our ranches are close together.

But, we don’t live on our ranch like Charla does and I don’t see her that often. We live in town. We drive out to here most evenings to check on the place, feed the horses, and on weekends we go for a family ride, shoot guns, hike around, mend fence, or continue the work on the barn and corral we’re building.

Sometimes we kids come out here with just our dad. We play around while he drinks whiskey.


Memoir Chapter One

It was August 2009 when I had to give my daughters away. By court order they were going to live with their father. In another city. Across the state.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m afraid it’s what many thought about me at the time. She must be a loser of a mother, must have done some bad stuff, neglected her children, something. Maybe she drinks too much. The judge must know something about her that we don’t know. I’m sure my family was even wondering—what is going on that we don’t know about? I mean, why else would the kids be taken away from her? It’s unorthodox to order preteen daughters to go live with their father, especially a father who had little interest in them at all for the past twelve years.

I won’t tell you otherwise. That I was a good mom, one of the best. It’s not something I can say and therefore it is. I know a lot of women who don’t have it together but still believe they’re good mothers. They don’t get that it takes more than extreme love for your children. I could be one of those moms for all you know. But those who knew me before—those you watched me raise my babies—would tell you otherwise. My colleagues, other moms, the girls’ teachers and coaches, my mother, my sister, my brother, my aunts, my mother-in-law for God’s sake. They all knew. And it didn’t go unnoticed by Dave either. I wanted to relay all the positive feedback I’d gotten about my parenting and my kids to the judge. I especially wanted to tell him what a teacher friend of mine had just said to me, upon the birth of her second child. “You need to stop writing books about teaching and start writing books about parenting. I’ve watched you over the years; you make it look so easy. Plus, I want my kids to turn out like yours—smart, independent, courteous…” But that’s not how it works. I learned that I wouldn’t necessarily get to tell the judge what he really needed to know. Or that he’d take it into account.

And there are those who came after who can attest to the time, energy, and love that I have dedicated to the girls since the divorce. I did not quit parenting once I lost them. I thought about it. Don’t get me wrong. I even considered relinquishing life altogether. But my girls needed me now more than ever. Who knew what they were headed for. Absurd as it seemed, my role may have just become more vital, more valuable than it ever was before. How I conducted myself, how I came out of this situation, was going to have a bigger impact on who these girls became, as women, than any further day-to-day parenting I was no longer privileged to provide.

I turned the girls, and their belongings, over to Dave in a convenience store parking lot in the small mountain town that the court had declared to be the midway point between our residences. This is where we would meet once or twice a month for the next six years until the girls were out of high school. I handed box after box to Dave and he loaded them, slack-jawed, astonished at how much his daughters had acquired over the past decade, into the shell of his F350. I noticed, as I always did, that the tailgate hit him mid-chest. Why he had to buy the largest truck possible I never understood, though I, and others, speculated that its grandiosity and power represented something he longed for in himself.

When we had passed the last of the boxes, careful not to accidently brush hands in the process, he looked at me with raised eyebrows. He hadn’t spoken to me in over a year. He did communicate, but only via email or text, always brief, to the point, and somewhat mordacious. For the past several months, since Dave had moved back to the city to take a new job, the girls had lived with me 250 miles further west, where the whole family had moved a few years earlier, with high hopes of making things work with a new backdrop. But the time had come. They needed to get settled in their new home before school started.

The agonizing despair had come and gone, my ripped up guts somewhat healed, my mind deadened with this actuality, my heart held together now with nothing but faith. Faith that these girls would make it, that they wouldn’t become some foul statistic. I had to believe that they were in God’s hands, not Dave’s.

It was not with the judge’s final ruling two weeks earlier that I had learned that I would lose them; I sensed it long before, as the reality slowly but steadily materialized, like darkness on a night with no moon.

His raised eyebrows said, “So, that’s it then?”

And though I was sure he wasn’t referring to just the boxes, I replied with, “That’s only half of it. I’ll bring the rest next time.”

The “it” was the girls’ assemblage of their childhood:  toys, keepsakes, artwork, clothing, shoes, outerwear, souvenirs, stuffed animals, and room decor. Being tweens—still girls but barreling at full speed toward the teenage years—they seemed to have twice as much as a girl in strictly one or the other category might have. As we packed up their rooms, they were reluctant to get rid of anything, and understandably so. Everything they possessed represented a happier time, a safer place. I didn’t press. I was secretly hoping that when they unpacked and set up their new rooms, every item would serve as a reminder of my love and devotion to them over the years. Not that I wanted them to feel regret, guilt, or hurt; I just couldn’t bear them forgetting me.

Dave pursed his lips and bobbed his head slightly at the enormity of their belongings, grasping, I think, the enormity of the situation. He would now be raising these children. He would be responsible for their welfare, for how they turned out in life. Was he at all concerned about his lack of parenting experience? Maybe I had made it look so easy to him, too.

Of course, he probably wouldn’t be the one caring for the girls anyway. He would be working a lot, as he had been before. He had a live-in girlfriend, Susie, who was not employed and the court presumed that, for that reason, she would be an acceptable caregiver. Not just acceptable, but preferable. A better choice than the tried-and-true biological mother who had managed work and household and children just fine all these years.

Dave turned back to me. His eyebrows, still raised, showcased the stress lines on his forehead beneath what appeared to be a premature receding hairline. It had, in actuality, been that way since I’d met him some 22 years earlier. The fissures had come in gradually, like cuts in a chicken breast to determine if the meat was thoroughly cooked. Medical school, slice. Not-exactly-wanted children, slice. Cancer patients dying, slice, slice, slice. The tedium of the days, weeks, years. Slice. A move, a new job, a fresh start, cancer patients still dying. Slice. A wife who finally gave up and wanted out. Slice.

The question remained. “So, that’s it then?” As if the passing of the belongings served as the culminating event of the decisions made over the past year and a half. It was done. The girls were his. And I? Well, I was now an every-other-weekend mother.