Willawaw Journal, Spring 2019

The Alaska Writer Laureate, Peggy Shumaker, provided the poem prompt for the spring issue of Willawaw. The prompt was Parenthood, Unplanned. I’m honored that two of my poems, Edelweiss, and Nest, appear in this issue.

Check them out here:



Mother was always the oldest of mothers.
The gray chignon, the lace-up Oxfords, the little metal cart she pushed back and forth
to the Blue Goose Market because she never learned to drive.
The other mothers kept their hair short, so practical for playing tennis,
riding in convertibles, quick showers after a swim.

Mother, as the oldest of mothers, was a bath person.
The hard-milled soaps, imported from France, the shrimp-colored girdle dropped
onto the tile floor. Sometimes she’d let me sit, as a little girl, on the edge of the tub,
and I’d stare at the flat crepes of her breasts, the two or three hairs growing on her
shins like thistle. Did I come from that body? I would ask.
Yes, she would say, you were a bloom in the desert.

Mother was always the oldest of mothers.
Not frail exactly, but the old country was in her bones.Something slightly brittle.
Given to fretting: wet socks, drafts, sniffles, prunes. Frugal, too, she was, because
there had been a war. She knew people who had eaten shoe leather, put sawdust
in their bread. She could not bear to watch me toss a half-eaten apple into the trash.
So much waste in America, she would scoff.

Mother, as the oldest of mothers, didn’t like surprises.
The questionable report card, the note from the teacher. It was best to prepare her.
She had already suffered the ultimate shock, the one that turned her auburn hair
the color of ash. Once she told me how she thought the doctor had been joking.
But then you appeared, she said, the edelweiss in my winter.

The Nest

She was the grandmother, after all, so she had little choice. But they were a handful,
those two brothers, sullen as sin, given to the surreptitious pinch, the bully stare.

She had brought them home from out West, two little disruptions to her cozy
retirement. One was eight, with scrawny limbs like a toddler.The other was six,
with cheeks pale as chalk.

Their mother was long gone. Some said a half-way house, she was messed up,
that girl. Others thought Las Vegas, a so-called ranch, the legal kind with doctors.

The grandmother said little, except, perhaps, a prayer under her breath. Neighbors
whispered that she, herself, had once been a nun, or a yogini. Who else would have
such patience?

She must have known that nothing would change overnight. Doors would still be
kicked in from time to time, rocks thrown. The kitten would be tortured, its paws
bound with rubber bands.

First came Cleanliness, a nightly bath, the banishment of lice. Godliness would have
to wait while she cured the scarlet scabs of impetigo and taught them how to wash
their necks.

For afternoon snacks, she insisted on apples, cut into fourths, or whole-wheat cookies
that tasted like dust, but she was not above a little bag of M&M’s for chores well done.

That first summer, she pointed out Venus rising in the evening sky, The Pleiades
falling above their heads, the velvet bats flapping around the street lamps, the
natural rhythms.

All her efforts. They won’t make any difference to those kids, said the neighbors.

In the spring,she took them to see the nest, waking the boys each day at dawn,
showing them how to focus the field glasses on the wisps of straw,the fragile eggs.

One morning two little birds, barely feathered, cracked through the shells. The boys
watched as the mother bird chewed the worms herself before dropping them into
the gaping baby mouths.

In time the boys would understand about hunger and nests and the natural order
of things. For now, all she could give them was the safety of the morning meadow,
and the future hope of flight.

The Compassion Anthology

The Compassion Anthology is a beautiful collection of writing about disasters, refugees, loss. I find it both uplifting and inspiring. I’m honored to have one of my poems included in the latest edition. Please read below:

Emergence: Hurricane

Where did the tortoise go when the winds blew? Did he pull his scaly head inside his shell and ride it out?

Where did the tortoise go when the rains came? Did he get plunged down the ravine like a life-less stone?

When the dock sank, when the church lost its roof, when the porch of the market was sucked into the salt pond…

Where was the tortoise?

Did he dig down into the earth itself, his mouth bloated with mud, his small heart nesting against the roots of the baobab?
Afterwards, no one thought about him. Not at first.
Not when there were men stunned and peeing their khaki shorts, women wandering
in circles, twisting their hair, unable to speak.
Not even later when folks began making their way through the jungle of downed
wires, splintered shutters, hijacked hulls. Now and then coming upon surprises.

A toy bear, soggy, but recognizable. A wedding dress, its lace intact. A bottle of Heineken, unbroken.

But where was the tortoise?

No one knew. No one cared.

And then, in time, everyone lining up like dung beetles, seeking water, signals, familiar faces, those chalky packets of Red Cross food, ever-welcome, even so.
And little by little, a carapace of the old life emerged from the rubble, and the tortoise emerged too.

He was last seen crawling along the Coral Bay Road, his house on his back. Slow as usual, but undeterred.



You might also like to check out the CHARTER FOR COMPASSION with which this anthology is affiliated. This is a document which urges the peoples and religions of the world to embrace the core value of compassion, inspired by Karen Armstrong, the writer and religious scholar.http://www/charterforcompassion.org It is available in thirty languages and embraces forty-five countries around the world.