Of Nancy Drew and Bowls of Cherries

On a rainy March day in 1986, in Appleton, Wisconsin, a baby girl was born. She was red and wrinkly, and she cried. She gave her screams and her warmth to her mother’s arms, and she gave her parents a new human to love. That was all she really needed to give. In a way, though, new and unformed as she was, she had nothing to give the world.

Not yet.

She grew up in a little world, a small-town world, a world with love and pain and ignorance and learning and summer and winter.

As she grew, she learned that she had, in fact, something to give. She could feel it rising in her heart, she could feel it reaching out through her mind, she could feel it reaching through her fingers.

She began to make.

She made necklaces and bracelets, drawings and poems. She found the flowers and the sky and the depth of others’ eyes, and she took them into her soul. Then she made.

Life goes on, you know, even if you haven’t summoned up the strength to make it what you want. She moved in the world that moved faster than her, working for others, working hard sometimes and sometimes not hard enough.

And she made things, still. But sometimes she was too tired to make them.

In her mind, though, a host of characters lived, hovering around the laziness, the dreams, the work, the disappointments, the getting-back-ups. Characters like Mildred Benson, who under the name Carolyn Keene created a spunky, simple character named Nancy Drew, who made a million girls happy. Characters like Mary Engelbreit, an artist who created greeting cards and posters with illustrations of bright children and bowls full of cherries. Characters like Ella Fitzgerald, whose strong, warm song moved the earth. Characters like Betty Smith, who wrote A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a novel so tender it brought this girl to tears…

…and L.M. Montgomery, who created Anne of Green Gables,

Mary Cassatt, who painted impressionist portraits of mothers,

Eva Cassidy, who shared her songbird spirit with the world before her life was cut short,

Emily Dickinson, who wrote a letter to the world no one can forget…

(and more)

These characters were beautiful for many reasons, but the most beautiful thing about them was that they were real. They were real people, and they worked real hours, and they took real raw materials and created things that had not existed before.

They had to pay their dues, sure, somehow, so maybe they had days that were the equivalent of coming home smelling like espresso with sore knees. They had struggles. But they made things. They made glorious things. Or simple things. Or pretty things. They made them, they shared them, and they changed the world.

I suppose it is probably obvious that the little girl who was born on that rainy day in March was me. I am still paying my dues, recovering from disappointments, brushing myself off from failures or moments of laziness or moments of life being unfair.

Just like when I was a newborn, the fact that I am alive and breathing and capable of giving and receiving love is what matters most in the final analysis. But all of us were made with something to give. We have brains, we have muscles to move with, we have life. As for me, my brain and muscles and life are organized in such a way that I know what I have to give.

I can make things.

I put flowers together, I string beads together, I take pen to paper and draw, I take pen to paper and write.

And I’ll be damned if I give up on making things, sharing them, and changing the world.

(One of my hero Mary Engelbreit’s prints…it had her watermark on it out of respect for her intellectual property; you can purchase this art at https://www.maryengelbreit.com/collections/art/products/arts-and-crafts-fine-print).
This is Mildred Benson, aka Carolyn Keene. Here she is with Nancy Drew books. I loved those!
Learn more: https://www.lib.umd.edu/nancy/influential-authors/carolyn-keene
Eva Cassidy.


“I am worthless” I heard you say
Your eyes were empty and
your body was heavy
Oh, I wanted to banish that evil spirit who
whispered that in your ear or maybe
hug you until I wore the lie away

I forgot that moment
as I lay in bed this morning,
thinking about my LinkedIn profile and saying to myself:“You are worthless.”

But then I remembered
that it wasn’t true

Some doctor or lawyer was probably
at that very moment thinking the same thing
and maybe some man was tightening a noose, his mouth so full
of those worthless words he was going to choke

We need Someone to hold us to wear the lies away

This breath in our lungs,
this light in our eyes,
this pain in our backs must bring us
to a point where we can see
Our worth does not lie in anything we do, but in everything we are:
fragile vessels that can be filled with so many things
but are meant for love.

the stem, the potato, and us

On the Internet I read
that you can take a rose,
slather the stem in honey,
stick it in a potato,
plant the potato in dirt
and wait

The Internet told me I
could expect a new rose
in time

Now, my husband and I work
at a grocery store —
me with the flowers,
him with the produce, and
we discard rose stems and
fading potatoes every day, so
I told him with a wink that even
though we couldn’t have kids,
we could make a baby this way

And in our eyes I felt the objection
to this, because
what if this silly thing from the Internet
doesn’t work, and our potato rose baby
doesn’t live, and what does that mean?

But I planted it anyway,
and soon the bad potato smelled
so bad I had to set the pot
on the fire escape

But I watered it, and watched,
And the stem remained a stem until
one day it was gone

The pot was tipped over,
The potato was eaten through
by some squirrel with low standards

I guess I am not going to read into that

Between Sleep and Conversation

I took a train from France to Italy 
once through the sunflower fields - 
acres of gold stretching
on and on; 
but they were just 
flashes then
between sleep and conversation
and the rhythm 
of the train

I married you in August 
holding aster, nervous hands
I loved those golden circles
set in white
And we looked at us that night 
in the soft candlelight, 
looks we held in full
to hold in time

Now the days are moving 
at time’s determined speed 
and your kisses are so gentle and so firm
sleep and conversation
each misunderstanding
in the rhythm 
of the endings 
of the days


I think when people started telling me
                                          “It’s real”
I did believe them
I thought, I can see that, and
why wouldn’t I believe you


Over time, though,
as I kept hearing this story
                                         of being pushed back
                                         or not seen
                                         or spoken for
                                        without consent,

I started to feel something other
than pity
or genuine compassion
or guilt

I started to feel the hair
on my arms stand up
as I realized how
                                         I move with
                                        a wave of history
                                        that carves away at
                                        a rock made of spirits
                                        and bodies

                                        and I (we)
                                        crash against it
and again

                                           but I hope this is an analogy
                                            Will it break at the breaking point?

Because I am here,
and I am breaking

I have so much
I know so little                                     

the song behind the noise

Your words are hard here,
and here, and here —
but I cannot get you out of my mind

Your words are kind here,
more than kind —
heartbreaking —
and I cannot get you out of my mind 

I couldn’t if I tried
(it’s the fear)
I heard a few sermons about hell
when I was young
so you will always be
at least a question

…but that fear is part
of the cloud
of anxiety and noise
that surrounds my mind
so I’d like not to focus on it

and I’d like not to focus on sin
or pain
or the groaning earth
or shame

I’d like not to focus
on the hatred
or judgement of man
or the Bible beaters
or the politics (on all the sides)
or the rulers who oppress
or the selfishness of lust
(theirs and mine)

I am trying now to focus:
to close my eyes and listen
because all I hear is noise



I remember the violets
in the grass by the baseball field
where my brother played
how bright and purple they were
when I picked them,

and I hear them

and if I am still,
I can hear my mother singing
and my father plucking strings

I can hear the kindness
of shared grief
I can hear, even, the prayers
for peace and healing
and joy

I can hear those believers
who tell me they don’t know

I can hear the quiet song
that persists in this dark world
— a prayer of love
that forgives —

a gift
of secret beauty
that fills the ocean depths
creating great blue whales
and all their friends and foes 

it’s a thread of hungry beauty
that fills the galaxies
and lingers in the footprints 
of all the tiny bugs
— bright
or slight —
whose strange smallness
and diversity
fuel my curiosity

I hear you

…is it You?

colors f a l l i n g

in the flower shop
i cut and tie and curl
shiny paper ribbon —
bright strands of color
meant for twirling
— nothings, really but
they leave these little wisps of happy
in the edge of your mind
for a second

in the flower shop
i snip the broken blooms
from the African violets
and kalanchoes
and little rosebushes
a few good petals fall
with the bad, lingering
for a moment in my hands