Still Life with Sid Vicious by Robert Beveridge

for Jeanne Volpe

“I mean, once started, I
can’t not be with you.”–Chris Stroffolino, “Kiss and Run”

Could I be sure
is what I’m askingl
what I want to know
could I be sure
that you wouldn’t run off
with the neighbor’s cat

or eat all the cajun sunflower seeds
before you come up to bed?

The garlic
at dinner last night
was delicious
spinach and cheese

but the cat didn’t like it
so I had you for another night
without too much fear
of losing you to your ex
at least temporarily

it always seems
like that cat, Sid Vicious
with the stubby tail
noses around where you grow
those Mexican sunflowers
where you like to take me
and taunt me with your body
show flashes of breast in public
as if on the beach where you can
just drop the top of your bikini

I could take you to Nassau
and just forget to buy
the tickets home (this
would get you away
from your ex)

but you insist
we take Sid Vicious
and they don’t allow cats
on that kind of white-sand beach
and where else would we live anyway?

We sat on your back porch last night
and drank whiskey from your roommate
Roxanne’s most expensive green glasses
you cuddled the cat and kept
your nipples hidden

the flowers weren’t up yet
so I just sat and stared
at the view of I-95
you like so much

if this were a drug
it would have to be methaqualone
’cause things
move just too damn slow
around here

you look sexy in advice
it tends to shower you
in white like Nassau sand
but I can still reach through it
and touch your skin

so please
get that cat off your lap
and that mind off your ex
come sit down with me
and let me tell you
all about the garlic plants
I grow with my spinach
and sunflowers in Nassau

and how nice the weather
is down there
this time of year

About the Author: Robert Beveridge

Robert Beveridge makes noise (xterminal.bandcamp.com) and writes poetry just outside Cleveland, OH. Recent/upcoming appearances in Borrowed Solace, Dodging the Rain, and Twyckenham Notes, among others.

Sunday Sanctuary: Time in My First Sanctuary

It’s been a heavy travel year with suitcases packed more than 40% of the year and I’ve been longing to just be home so that we can return to our normal routines. Yet, when John was assigned a last-minute trip to Washington DC, I couldn’t help but tag along.

Long before I learned to create a sanctuary within my own home, the city of Washington DC was my sanctuary. My house was in Texas, but between 2005 and 2010, my heart found a home and my soul found sustenance for one week a month when I traveled to DC for work.

I cherished those weeks and sometimes, during the time between trips, I felt as if I were hanging onto my sense of self by only a tiny thread.

As my plane flew over the Potomac River and I saw my first glimpse of the Washington Monument, all the tightness in my body dissipated and I could finally take those deep, cleansing breaths that are the breath of life. My anxieties would begin to melt away.

What I didn’t quite get at the time, though, was that it wasn’t just that my anxieties that were melting away, but that the walls I had built around my tender soul were dissolving. For the first time in my life, I was traveling alone, and though I spent time with folks at work, I wasn’t living the way others believed I should be. More than one person – from my mother to my gynecologist – expressed the belief that my vagabond lifestyle was insane.

Yet, the vibrant, creative person I was deep inside, but had encased, was reemerging.

Like a butterfly out of a cocoon.

When I signed a long-term contract requiring me to spend Monday through Friday in the city managing a big document, I felt like it was a gift from God. Being in the city I loved combined with working with words every day felt like a match made in heaven. It was challenging work, and hard to be away from Texas for such long spells, but it was transformational to me as a person and as a creative.

I explored every museum, discovered favorite places to dine, and stumbled upon a half-dozen tiny spots within the city that held me.

The President’s Gallery in the National Portrait Gallery. The Rotunda and the founding documents at the Archives. King Street in Alexandria. The Lone Soldier at the Navy Memorial. Sipping a glass of iced tea and eating a chocolate salted oat cookie at Teaism nourished my body, while a walk into the tea shop just to smell the Earl Grey nourished my mind. Mount Vernon. The Hotel Monaco. Margaritas at Oyamel. Section 35 of Arlington National Cemetery.

Those years and the time learning to thrive in DC were a critical part of my journey in becoming me. As I explored beautiful and historical places, I slowly began restoring my soul back to myself.

It was a short trip, three days total. When we go into DC these days, I usually fill my schedule with lunch and coffee dates. But this time, I was in need of the deeper soul nourishment you can only get through solitude. So, when John went to work on our second day, I headed out to explore.

The Metro to Arlington National Cemetery. I waited for the gates to open and was one of the first visitors inside. I walked to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and skirted around the amphitheater to Section 35. There, I visited a friend’s grave for a bit and found then found the nearby grave of Astronaut John Glenn, where I left a coin to add to his many tokens. The day was warming, so it was time to head out. As I made my way to the exit, I stopped to leave another coin on the grave of Maureen Blair, known to most of the world as Maureen O’Hara; she’s there with her husband, Brigadier General Charles F. Blair.

Back to the Metro, grateful for the time to sit and think without needing to navigate myself. An exit at Federal Triangle and a short walk down Constitution Avenue led me to the National Archives. I queued through security, took the stairs to the rotunda, and waited my turn to view The Declaration, The Bill of Rights, The Constitution, and more. It seems darker each time I visit, the archivists attempt at protecting the fragile documents.

I lingered in the gift shop before I left.

I skirted my way across Pennsylvania Avenue, meandered through the Navy Memorial, and made a pit stop in Teaism. I have always loved their bathroom, almost as much as I love their cookies. I had a glass of iced tea and a cookie, and then took myself to the National Portrait Gallery, a beautiful granite building shared with the American Art Gallery.

The Presidential Gallery at the National Portrait Gallery is under renovation, but some of the portraits have been relocated. I found them, pausing to spend time with Lincoln. I strolled through an exhibit on Marlena Dietrich and then lingered in the courtyard before walking past the Hotel Monaco, The True Crime Museum, and the new Clara Barton Museum.

I had a reservation for lunch. It was just for me; you never can tell in DC how busy the restaurants are going to be.Though I hadn’t been in for three months, the very stylish head host (so much more chic than most!) stepped from behind the podium, hugged me and called me sweetheart, and told me he was happy to see me. He seated me at a table on the sidewalk, and under the shade of a big orange umbrella, I ate chips and tacos, and sipped a margarita as I watched the lunchtime crowds.

 

I indulged in two completely girly and totally me things: I visited a salon I’ve frequented often and got a blowout, and I went to Macy’s. Yes, I was in need of the sacred, but someone washing and drying your hair is a purely luxurious experience. And how could I resist a visit to the big, downtown Macy’s, which carries a plethora of things I can’t find in the smaller store I frequent in the Dayton mall? I bought a blouse and headed back to the hotel.

We had a date-night planned, dinner at The Palm, and I wanted time to refresh. I showered, re-applied my make-up, and after we shared a pre-meal cocktail at the hotel, we went dinner.

DC will always be a part of my soul, but it’s no longer the place I desperately need to get to so that I can be “home” and become myself. The city was a critical part of my journey in becoming. Now, it’s simply a reminder of where I’ve been and how important it is for us to have symbols of hope and places where we can reconnect to the sacred. Now, no matter where I roam, I am me, and home is the sacred space in which I can continue to remove layers of hiding from my own brilliant self. Because growth and becoming never halt.

I am grateful that our pre-July 4th trip, likely the last of the summer, took me to a place where I could refresh the essence of my creative being.

About the Author: Debra Smouse

debra_Smouse_mclDebra Smouse is a self-admitted Tarnished Southern Belle, life coach, and author of Clearing Brain Clutter: Discovering Your Heart’s Desire and Clearing Soul Clutter: Creating Your Vision. When she’s not vacuuming her couch, you’ll find her reading or plotting when she can play her next round of golf. She’s the Editor in Chief here at Modern Creative Life. Connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

The Poetry Scene – Twenty Years Later by Serena M. Agusto-Cox

 

My hands don’t sweat my nerves; they shake them out through my fingers.  I sat in the front row with five other poets, ones I consider more accomplished than myself.  Only last year was my poem, “Dignified Opposition,” nominated for the Pushcart Prize by Dime Show Review.  I’m still working on a poetry manuscript, one I’ve put together, torn apart, and started over with completely different poems and themes.

Have you ever had that moment when you’re struck dumb? That happened to me when an email from Lucinda Marshall landed in my inbox.  She was organizing a poetry reading with local poets and wanted to know if I was interested.  Was I interested?  Of course!  But I was equally terrified that I would be a blubbering mess.  I was reminded by my lovely first reader that I needed to send her samples of my work first, which I presumed would be rejected.

I haven’t read my own work in public for about 20 years, and I don’t think I’ve shown anyone else my work, except my trusted first reader.  The pressure not to disappoint seemed insurmountable.

I remember that eagerness, picking out poems I loved and wanted to share in our small literary community at Suffolk University.  I rarely had a second thought about reading my poems.  The dark basement lounge with its small furniture in bright rainbow colors, musty but inviting in a bohemian way.  It was a delight to share the shadowed space with so many young, vibrant poets.  We were all searching for our own voices, and we were doing it together.

Life changed after graduation, and the reality of student loans and needing a job to live off of soon crept into my worldview.  College seemed like a carefree place where I could spend my afternoons writing and creating — learning — but the workforce is much more rigid.  For 20 years, I’ve been writing off and on when I found the time between work, getting married, and having a daughter.  Writing came in spurts or not at all for many years.  Publications in journals trickled in, and with each fleeting moment of delight came the dreary feeling of failure.

Literary work is hard, even harder than working in a rigid job.  It’s full of rejection and very few moments of praise and encouragement.  Not reading for those years allowed my anxieties to loom larger, and I allowed those rejections to feed that anxiety.  It’s crazy how things can accumulate over time without you realizing it.

After speaking with my first reader about what poems to send Lucinda, my heart began racing once they went to her inbox from mine.  I worried that they weren’t good enough, even though many had been published previously.  I realized through all my worrying that I didn’t want to inadvertently blow a chance to share my work again.  Yes, work I had been holding onto, but proud of, even as my editorial brain told me they were not polished.

When Lucinda told me that I was added to the lineup with Katherine E. Young, Gregory Luce, Leeya Mehta, and Donald Illich at The Gallery at Chesapeake Framing in North Potomac, Md., in June, my brain froze.  I flailed for a while after her email, despite my answers to her queries for a headshot and bio. It was coming down to the wire, and while the fear whirred, I struggled to pin down what poems I’d read.

I admit I was beginning to allow anxiety to take over.  I didn’t select or practice my poems beforehand.  In fact, I did just two dry runs the day of the reading.  Even as I listened to the poets before me in the lineup, my hands were shaking uncontrollably.  I still struggled with the poems I had in the folder; I wanted it to be perfect, knowing that it wouldn’t be.  In the end, I pushed the fears aside, reordered my poems, and stepped to the podium.

Click Image to Listen to Serena’s Poetry Reading

 

As I read each poem, I traveled back in time to when I wrote them and why, and it was trip I will remember for a long time because I felt closer to my daughter when I wrote how she would save the world in “A Poem to Save Us,” to my nana who filled my life with music in “Piano,” and to both my grandmothers and my own mother in “Just Mom” and “Dear Vovó.”  I feel freer for having shared these poems that are so close to my heart, and I wouldn’t hesitate to struggle with my anxieties to do it again.

About the Author: Serena M. Agusto-Cox

Serena M. Agusto-Cox, a Suffolk University graduate, writes more vigorously than she did in her college poetry seminars. Her day job continues to feed the starving artist, and her poems can be read in Beginnings Magazine, LYNX, Muse Apprentice Guild, The Harrow, Poems Niederngasse, Avocet, Pedestal Magazine, and other journals.  An essay also appears in H.L. Hix’s Made Priceless, as does a Q&A on book marketing through blogs in Midge Raymond’s Everyday Book Marketing.  She also runs the book review blog, Savvy Verse & Wit , and is the founder of Poetic Book Tours.

 

The Demands of Art by Patricia Wellingham-Jones

Maybe I gave up a social life
so I could write poems
but since that same gathering
of people with mouths moving,
idle words slithering, empty laughs
braying into non-listening ears
is what drains me, turns me wild-
eyed, desperate to escape,
I’m not at all sure I’ve given up
anything. What I value
is found in quiet, music
in sounds of nature, solitude
the nurturing core with a few
good friends for warmth
and connection.

About the Author: Patricia Wellingham-Jones

PatriciaWellingham-JonesPatricia Wellingham-Jones is a widely published former psychology researcher and writer/editor. She has a special interest in healing writing, with poems recently in The Widow’s Handbook (Kent State University Press). Chapbooks include Don’t Turn Away: poems about breast cancer, End-Cycle: poems about caregiving, Apple Blossoms at Eye Level, Voices on the Land and Hormone Stew.

(A)-Typical Tuesday (Holiday Edition) by Jeanie Croope

Let the summer recharge begin! Here on an inland lake in Northern Michigan I have settled for the better part of the summer, taking in big breaths of fresh, clean air and enjoying (mostly) blue skies and warm days.

The return to the cottage always brings about a certain amount of work with it and when we arrived for our first visit a couple of weeks ago, I wouldn’t list “relaxing” as a key word. There were screens to put on, porch furniture to haul out, linens to change, cupboards to wipe down (yes, mice seem to prefer inside to outside in the cold Michigan winter), and bags to unpack.

There’s also a beach to weed, but that’s part of the never-ending story of summer!

But that’s done and now it’s Tuesday, July 4, a very atypical Tuesday!

The morning begins with birdsong. Gulls and other lake birds start their chatter early in the day, just after sunrise, and the quacking of the duck family isn’t far behind. As soon as there is action that indicates someone may be getting out of bed, Lizzie-the-Cat adds her own chorus to the music of creatures and her calls are well heeded.

For Rick, it’s coffee; for me, Tab. (Yes, people still drink Tab. For breakfast.) Something for breakfast. And then it’s off to our typical July 4. Rick is a cyclist in training for a ride to Quebec City this summer. He’ll be off on a hundred-mile jaunt to a small town about 50 miles from here. Once he’s out the door, I will gather a book — or more likely, my watercolors — and spend some time on the porch “doing my thing” while he does his.

I value this period of quiet creativity, listening to the morning ripples on the lake just yards away from where I sit with two jars of water (one for rinsing brushes, the other for mixing), several pans of my favorite paints and more likely than not a blank page, waiting for the first marks. Will it be a landscape? An animal portrait? A whimsical bit from my imagination? Who knows?

About an hour or so before he’s due to hit his halfway destination, Central Lake, I’ll pack a picnic for us to enjoy. Thick sandwiches with deli meats, veggies and cheese, a confetti orzo salad  with bright bits of red and yellow pepper, radishes, green onions, black olives, fresh herbs, feta and a non-mayo dressing so that we’ll have no worries on food safety. We’ll round it off with chips, big cookies or brownies and cold drinks. Then I’ll hit the road, picnic in hand, camera in my bag (along with a good book, just in case I get there first!).

The July 4 parade in Central Lake has become a tradition for us. The town itself is very small, one Main Street and a lake just steps from the four corners. I’m not sure where they find all the people to be in the parade, much less those crowding the streets. And yet the sidewalks are packed and the parade itself is fairly long, reminding me of something I would encounter in a Garrison Keillor story. If one has a dog, a tractor, a truck or is a clown, they are in the parade. Good candy-tossing arms are a requirement! Queens from neighboring communities ride on floats, sweltering in their gowns in the noonday sun and yet waving with cheer.  Children from area churches and Sunday Schools ride on the back of flatbed trucks, singing. Every high school band within 30 miles or so is represented, some more tunefully than others, but all with great spirit. There is red, white and blue everywhere, along with plenty of smiles.

As the parade draws to a close, we’ll find a shady spot by the lake for our picnic and when we are satiated, he’ll take off on two wheels. I’ll take off on four and explore antique stores, art galleries and fruit stands on the way home.

I will certainly beat him home and in an effort to do something that appears to be productive, I might take another stab at pulling out the weeds from the beach until I’m oh, so very warm! And then I’ll be glad to jump in and swim my “route” between the neighbor’s buoys, making sure to be out of the water by the time the boat parade comes along.

The boat parade is a longstanding tradition. Those with power boats on the lake (and a few intrepid canoe or kayak enthusiasts) deck them out with streamers, balloons and flags and at least begin circling the lake’s shoreline. I say begin, because they do tend to drop off after a bit. Being only about a mile or two from the start line, most are still in place as they pass by. Of course we wave as they honk and shout happy greetings.

By now on this atypical Tuesday, Rick has returned and soon it will be time to fire up the grill. It’s definitely a white-wine-night, well chilled and refreshing. If we’re lucky, we’ll have guests for dinner, guests who will stay for the fireworks later in the evening.

The lake is at its best as it begins to quiet down. The jet skis have moved on and most are home, enjoying their holiday meal as well. It’s a festive atmosphere. Neighbors are in chat mode, there’s likely to be music. In the air you can smell grills getting a workout — burgers and dogs, chicken and ribs. Summer may have officially started two weeks before, but July 4 seems like the kick-off to a season of refreshment.

More likely than not, there will be a spectacular sunset, with the sky taking on various shades of orange and gold and gently edging into cobalt blue. As dusk closes in and stars begin to emerge, so do boats, settling into the waters across from the County Park (and in front of our cottage) to get prime seating for the fireworks display. It doesn’t get fully dark till nearly 10:30 at night at my little spot in Northern Michigan, but the revelers don’t care. And really, why should they? Being out on a lake on a beautiful  evening doesn’t require fireworks. It is simply the frosting on the cake.

And then that first burst of color. Another, and one after that. The fireworks will bring to a close this atypical Tuesday, dropping streamers of purple and gold, red and blue into the waters with approving honks from boat horns for a particularly spectacular display. As the grand finale draws the evening to an end, the horns join together in loud appreciation of a day well spent.

There will be campfires after and more fireworks set off on beaches along the way. Lizzie-the-Cat will hunker down under the quilt that covers our bed, even if the temperature is 80-something and humid, only to emerge when the noise quiets or she is hungry (again) — whichever comes first.

As for us, we’ll tumble into bed, smiling and satisfied from a beautiful holiday celebration and eagerly anticipate the next day of art and bicycles, books and swimming, ice cream and a very vocal cat. And if we are wise and honest, we will acknowledge that our atypical Tuesday at the lake really isn’t too different from any Tuesday on vacation — it’s just a little louder and a little more festive.

About the Author: Jeanie Croope

Jeanie Croope bioAfter a long career in public broadcasting, Jeanie Croope is now doing all the things she loves — art, photography, writing, cooking, reading wonderful books and discovering a multitude of new creative passions. You can find her blogging about life and all the things she loves at The Marmelade Gypsy.

Sunday Brunch: Getting Sleepy

“Sleep is still most perfect, in spite of hygienists, when it is shared with a beloved. The warmth, the security and peace of soul, the utter comfort from the touch of the other, knits the sleep, so that it takes the body and soul completely in its healing.” – D.H. Lawrence

Happy Couple Sleeping by Antonio Guillem

I wrote a short story a few months ago about a father and daughter at bedtime. It’s funny how much ritual and care we put into that winding-down part of the evening. It’s routine, right? Going to bed? But how do our bedtime rituals inform us, and how do they change over the course of our lives?

I should begin with a confession: I’ve never been a good sleeper.

In fact, to put it crudely, I kind of suck at sleep.

As a child bedtime initially involved my mother reading to me, but that ended when I was six or seven, and grew impatient to find out what happened with Jo and Laurie in Little Women. Even without being read to, however, my mother was still an important part of my bedtime routine.

She would ensure that I had a glass of water on my nightstand, and help me arrange all my stuffed animals and rag dolls (Winnie-the-Pooh, my favorite, was usually closest to my head, but the others had their own hierarchy depending on which was in favor. The two-foot-tall koala sat on the floor at night.)

But, as soon as my light had been turned off, as soon as my door had clicked shut, I was hiding under the covers with a flashlight, determined to get to the next part of whatever story had me hooked.

As I got older, and no longer needed to be ‘tucked into’ bed, my nocturnal life expanded. I set aside the flashlight for the boldness of the lamp on my nightstand, and even kept the radio turned on for company while I read. More than once, I fell asleep with my glasses crooked on my face, and a book folded open over my chest, only to wake up, disoriented and time-lagged, in the wee hours.

By the time I was a teenager, bedtime was no longer a fixed hour, though there was a time at which I was expected to be in my room on school nights. A life-long possessor of a vivid imagination and a tendency toward nightmares, late-night radio became my new bedtime ritual.

I’d set the sleep-timer on my ancient, white, clock radio – the one that was so old-school the numbers flipped like calendar pages instead of being liquid crystal or LED – to the maximum allowable period (fifty-nine minutes), keep the volume so low I had to strain to hear it, and let myself be pulled toward sleep.

At some point, I gave up listening to music at night, partly because I heard the Paul McCartney & Wings song “Let ‘Em In” one too many times, and it’s creeped me out every single time, and partly because any song that I liked would make me want to leave bed, and sing and dance in the middle of my (admittedly hazardously messy) room. I became addicted to Larry King’s radio show – the one from before he was on cable tv, and even before his heart attack – and even though I was rarely familiar with the guests, it worked, sending me into sweet oblivion until my alarm went off the next morning.

Some nights, when my imagination just would not let go, I had to hit that sleep timer multiple times, but most nights, the initial fifty-nine minutes were enough.

Adulthood brought new ingredients to my rituals for falling asleep, among them, white noise generators (which have since morphed into apps on my iPad) and a bedmate, in the form of my husband.

The former is the thing I now cannot sleep without, as it gives me a place for my imagination to reside, at least at the beginning of sleep, and distracts me from all those ‘house’ noises that would normally spark irrational fear.

As to my husband, while I can sleep without him, and sometimes prefer the luxury of having the entire bed to myself for an afternoon nap, I’ve determined that D.H. Lawrence was right on the nose. On my worst nights, I can nestle into his arms, and let his solid warmth form a sort of cocoon around me.

Science would insist that I’m either surfing on my husband’s delta waves or responding to increased levels of oxytocin created by physical contact, and I’m sure both are playing their parts. Nevertheless, I think there’s also something about simply not being alone to face the shadowy denizens of the darkness that soothes my wild mind more than any sleeping pill, herbal or otherwise, could ever do.

And of course, we have our own rituals… we usually find ourselves laughing right before we turn out the light, and sometimes for several minutes after. Even though we both work from home we use those starlit moments to reconnect, to talk about the little things that don’t get mentioned over dinner, and just to be.

If I wake him in the middle of the night with an affectionate (but still adamant) request to, “Roll onto your side; you’re snoring,” well, that’s just part of our routine, just as, half way through any given sleep period, I’ll wake up freezing and accuse him of stealing the covers.

“No, I didn’t,” he’ll say, waking up just enough to help rearrange the blankets and sheets. “You gave them to me.”

And maybe, subconsciously, I did.

Just has he’s given me endless, steadfast protection from my nightmares.

“And if tonight my soul may find her peace in sleep, and sink in good oblivion, and in the morning wake like a new-opened flower then I have been dipped again in God, and new-created.” – D.H. Lawrence

 

About the author: Melissa A. Bartell

Melissa is a writer, voice actor, podcaster, itinerant musician, voracious reader, and collector of hats and rescue dogs. She is the author of The Bathtub Mermaid: Tales from the Holiday Tub. You can learn more about her on her blog, or connect with her on on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Recessive Eyes by Richard King Perkins II

Sunlight flees northward,

prismatic losses
escaping through a net of time.

I’m running in place
on the black and white chevron rug

while you dance everywhere

throughout our bungalow
on the gulf shore.

Glowing from the inside
to the simplicity of my eyes

you’re untouchable—
until you understand touch

and I find myself saying yes
to your binding twine of love.

Triangles and wind chimes
colorless
as recessive eyes

I could say it’s the exertion

but it’s you
who’s held motionless,

the thief of my breath
and all things that fly—

there’s only so much to say
about clouds

until you look at clouds.

About the Author: Richard King Perkins II

Richard King Perkins II is a state-sponsored advocate for residents in long-term care facilities. He lives in Crystal Lake, IL, USA with his wife, Vickie and daughter, Sage. He is a three-time Pushcart, Best of the Net and Best of the Web nominee whose work has appeared in more than a thousand publications.

Copper by Lisa Zaran

Two years ago I started collecting pennies. Not just any pennies: found pennies.  It began when the agency I worked for took a devastating turn.

My co-workers and I would huddle in private discourse trying to make sense of the changes happening around us. We wondered privately: what would happen and where would we go? During this upheaval, I began finding pennies in the most random places, unexpected but obvious.

So I’d pick them up.

I didn’t give it any thought at first until it manifested: I became convinced each penny held meaning.

Once when I walked through the parking lot toward my car engrossed in thought, hopeful for a positive outcome suddenly I noticed a bright penny on the ground next to the drivers side door. Instances continued to occur. Another time a penny sat Lincoln side up directly outside my closed office door perfectly centered on the floor.

It happened so often that I’d began looking for pennies. But, as soon as I became aware of looking, I never found a penny. It’s only occured when I wasn’t thinking about seeking pennies, but when I was wholly focused on something else. A worry, seeking closure, or looking for answers. Rushing towards or away from these concerns, a penny would be in my line of sight.

Like the time, at the end of a long and tumultuous day, I discovered a penny on the seat of my office chair. I had been in and out, up and down all day long,

I began saving the special pennies.

I had this sugar skull shaped piggy bank, bright yellow with flowers and hearts for eyes. It sat on a shelf simply because I liked it. I began dropping these found pennies into it. Finding change continued to happen to me.

I’d experience numerous occasions where I was talking in my head to whomever would listen: God, self, the universe of thought and ideas. About a concern of mine, seeking guidance, affirmation when a piece of change would appear in my path, sometimes a nickel or a dime but most often a penny.

The skull became fuller. A quarter. A half. Three-quarters full..

I began getting hopeful for the day it would be totally full. I thought, maybe with the money I’ll purchase a piece of local, outsider art to serve as a reminder. Maybe I’ll create a piece of outsider art! Maybe I’ll hand it all to a homeless person. I had time to decide as I still had a forehead to fill.

Not everyone in my life was aware of this penny-endeavor but some were, my children knew, a few co-workers and friends.

I came home from work on a typical Wednesday and remembered I had some found change in my purse. It’d been sitting in there for a couple months so I gathered it up (17 pennies and 1 dime). When I dropped the first piece of change in I noticed the sound first.

It took a second for it to register in my brain, the hair-breadth of added time for the first coin to stop it’s falling at the bridge of a nose and land instead where a throat might end.

The skull was empty.

Addiction acts in a person. The person then is forced to react or take the blow. It’s like standing perfectly still with a wall coming at you eighty, ninety miles an hour. It’s falling from a great height at high speed, hearing the splat of organs on impact before feeling it.

Addiction has needs. It can not be satisfied with acts of containment, measures of control. My son is an addict; he is always hungry.  There are bad days and then there are worse days.

The missing pennies could not have amounted to much in a dealers hand, one hit maybe, powder residue from a suboxone tab. My son is an expert at reacting to addiction.

I’m sure, with the pennies he found redemption, enough to take the razor-sharp edge off for an hour, maybe two.

My mind told me to be furious, to rage, to scream injustice until my throat bled. My body refused; it collapsed onto a sofa and wept, deserted by the ability to feel anger.

The coins, I thought, are better off. No longer piled and compacted in a glass head. They’re free to roam, to offer, to serve those much needier than I. I envisioned the tending each penny would do, like a silk thread stitching a wound.

Every penny that slipped from dealers palm to dealers palm, fell by the wayside, came to a stop in a gutter outside a convenience store held more value than its monetary equivalent.

I knew these pennies would be found again. Picked up by hands that had no idea this coin is suffused in hope, this one has strength. This coin freedom, that one grace.

This wasn’t me being tender or forgiving. This wasn’t letting go. This was me not reacting as a wall came at me eighty miles an hour, as I fell from a great height.

About the Author: Lisa Zaran

LisaZaranBioLisa Zaran is the author of eight collections of poetry including Dear Bob Dylan, If It We, The Blondes Lay Content and the sometimes girl. She is the founder and editor of Contemporary American Voices. When not writing, Zaran spends her days in Maricopa county jails assisting women with remembering their lost selves.

Refresh and Restore by Christine Cassidy

We were lucky.

We lost power for only two weeks after Hurricane Sandy had battered the Jersey Shore. We were far enough inland from the rapidly rising Barnegat Bay. Three miles of pinelands and marsh dammed the flood waters from reaching our neighborhood.

Some weren’t so lucky.

Homes resting on the lip of the Bay were swallowed up by the undiscriminating Storm, then spat out indiscriminately along the coast.

Cars, washing machines, seldom used power tools lay underwater in an Atlantis of all the things that were supposed to make our lives easier. Now insurance companies calculated their value by water weight.

Across the bridge in Seaside, the Atlantic Ocean and the Bay rose to meet one another on the Boulevard that divided the island. Their brines’ violent mingling submerged some homes while it uprooted others, carrying them several hundred yards away from their foundations. Cinder blocks remained in carefully arranged rectangles like well-plotted archeological excavations.

Five years later and many are still trying to restore their lives to the way they were before the Storm.

Looking through the broken window of one ravaged home, one can see on the living room walls, clusters of faint mold spots like archipelagos adrift in a clinically white sea.

Five years later and a stubborn bay wind has stripped off the paint from another structure, exposing a ribcage of weathered timber.

A patchwork quilt of plywood, broken shingles, and faded shutters drapes the front of another home long abandoned.

But luck can change for the better, too.

Five years later and the houses that were lifted off of their foundations by the surf were lifted again. Lifted high, high above the ground, this time by hydraulic jacks, in anticipation of future storms.

Still others have been primed and painted an unblemished white, waiting the gentler marks and feather-like scratches of the day-to-day.

About the Author & Photographer: Christine Cassidy

ccassidybioChristine Cassidy is a self-taught artist who works in photography, fiber, collage and assemblage. Her photographs have appeared in F-Stop Magazine, NYC-Arts, Filtered Magazine, and twohundredby200.

Christine grew up in New Jersey among artists and makers; her father was a bricklayer who built her childhood home while her mother furnished it with the hooked rugs she hand crafted. Her older sister Kate Tevis was a graphic designer and collage artist.

Christine loves Buster Keaton, e.e. cummings, punk rock, and living in her tiny studio apartment in New York City.

Dear Blank Page by Jennifer Belthoff

Dear Blank Page,

I see you sitting there in your unassuming fashion and immediately I smile.  Thank you for inviting me in the way you always do.  You have no idea how grateful I am for our friendship and how it was you who saved my life.

When was it when we first met?  I cannot remember exactly but know that our love affair began quickly.  It came at a time when I didn’t even understand how strong love could be.  Long before I knew how deeply you would become a part of my life.

You are never too tired to meet and never once worried what time it was when I reached for you.  I admire the way you don’t complain, even when I wake you up at three in the morning.  You give me space to spill out the contents of my heart and hold my hand along the way.

Oh the adventures we have gone on.  Remember when we traveled across the country?  How radiant the Grand Canyon was.  How quickly I fell for Ray.  How I didn’t want to get back in the car because we were in the home stretch and I wasn’t quite ready to be back.

You hold all of my moments with gentleness and ease.  You do not care if I am in my pajamas, my hair is a mess, and my words don’t make sense.  You understand that the healing comes from the process and that whatever spills out is what needed to get out.

You soak up each word and never once have you judged me.  It is with you that I feel the safest.  I know that I can tell you anything.  I never have to pretend.  I never have to protect how I feel.  I do not need to hid behind a curtain of joy when I am feeling down.  You see me in my rawest form and you invite me to unfold deeper.

Remember when we were sitting in the coffee shop together and I started to write about my dream of becoming a teacher.  Along the way my words began to travel in a completely unexpected direction.  Tears welled up in my eyes and you caught each one as it rolled off my cheek.  When I first sat down to write I did not know there was an untold story that needed to be told.  But you did, and you were there for me as you always are.

What would I do if we had never met?  Where would I be?  What would my life look like?  One thing I know for certain is that I would be a total mess.  If I didn’t have you I would lost.  When I said that you saved my life I wasn’t kidding.  Yes, it was you who saved me.  You who helped me navigate the heartache, the pain, the unknown.  You who celebrated my successes and pushed me to keep stretching further and further.

Oh the stories you could tell.

What I love most about you is how deeply our trust for one another runs.  I know that every word I share with you is between you and I.  What a gift that is to me.  You are the only one in this world that I have that type of relationship with.

I want you to know that the reason I carry you with me everywhere I go is because knowing you are right beside me encourages me to keep stepping forward.  I know I always have you to lean on.  And you will be there ready for anything.

I love you deeply.  From the bottom of my heart I want to thank you for always being there for me.  They say true love last a lifetime and I know that you and I will be together forever.

Sending you so much love and a giant hug!

Love,

Jennifer

About the Author: Jennifer Belthoff

Jennifer is a writer and explorer who believes in the power of the written word.  She encourages strangers to exchange handwritten notes with one another in the mail through the Love Notes Postcard Project.

Join her for the next round beginning July 9th.  Learn more at www.jenniferbelthoff.com

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