Sunday, April 29, 2007

"Eulogy for a Tree"

By Al Stumph

The man extends arms outwards and holds his head high to capture sounds and smells as he walks the path next to the thicket. His feet slosh in the runoff of water over the clay soil. Every part of his being feels spring’s return to the Northeast. Embracing his 67th spring, the man has to pause more frequently on his climb, and in pausing, he observes and remembers:


The woman carried the bucket with the bare root seedling trees soaking in water. The man dug holes and placed, somewhat carelessly, a tree in each hole. They did this each spring for more than 30 years. The trees felt the comfort of soil pressing against roots and drank deeply from the nutrient-soaked moisture.


The man and woman watched as the trees grew each spring and summer. Branches soon supported resting birds and eventually nesting birds. Trees were decorated by snow in the winter; they spread their own seeds to the wind, and often sheltered small animals. The man sometimes napped in the shade.


The man and woman cut a tree from its roots and stood it up inside their house. This was their 36th year trimming the tree together. Each ornament held a special memory. Some of the ornaments had hung on trees decorated by preceding generations. Some carried the memories created by the man and woman with their own children. The tree’s branches proudly extended upward, faithful to tradition.


The parents, grandparents, children, aunts and uncles gathered near the tree for Christmas dinner, conversation and to play games. Snow fell lightly outside during dinner. The two-year old, as two-year olds often do, tugged at the ornaments and branches but the tree stood firm.


The man roughly dragged the remains of the tree from the house and shoved it into the thicket at the edge of the woods where it could decompose out of sight of the house. The woman solemnly removed and lovingly packed each ornament from the dead branches that now bent downward, their task completed.


A pregnant mouse rushes to get the fallen dry pine needles into her nest. When the nest is finished, she will give birth to her babies. The needles will make a soft warm bed for her litter in the burrow tucked beneath the trunk of the decaying tree.


A random gust of wind appears between the trees in the woods. Seeds that have been maturing in their pods are suddenly caught up and carried across open spaces. When they fall to the ground, a few, a very few, feel the warmth and moisture. Some of those fortunate enough to find protection from predators begin to send out feelers into the soil on which they rest.


The man resumes his climb. At the crest of the hill he sits on the bench he placed there years ago. From here he sees the forsythia’s golden blossoms near the mailbox. Buds and small leaves are breaking out on the bushes and the hillside beyond the house is giving up its grey tint. The man who has witnessed this recycling of life so many times before bows his head in awe at life stories remembered and, more importantly, at those poised to be born this season.

Writer Al Stumph lives in Chatham and loves nature.

Saturday, April 21, 2007


By Meredith LaFrance

The waves beat against the base of the cliff. The spray licked her tear-stained face and settled onto her matted hair. Her frock, once sky-blue with white ruffles down the front and a hem of white lace, was now torn and soiled. She sat with her knees tucked underneath the soggy wrinkled mess, shivering with each icy gust of wind.

He hadn't even left her a note. The house was as empty as her heart. At first she had thought his sudden absence might be some sort of a joke, but the neatly made bed, the bare closet and a couple of five-pound notes on the oak table, were telltale signs that he was gone for good.

The cliff seemed to welcome her with open arms. She longed to extract all the memories of Ari from her muddled mind and cast them into the swirling depths of the hungry sea, but they were to remain with her forever.

She slowly drew herself to her feet and stretched her arms up as high as they would reach. She couldn't believe Ari had been at her side only a night before, caressing her hand and running his fingers ever so gently through her auburn hair. She had stared into his deep blue eyes for what had seemed like hours.

"Amanda," he had whispered. "I never want you to leave me." His words had made her heart slap inside her chest. She nearly melted in his hands that night.

She strolled back to the cottage, drawing her tattered shawl about her shaking shoulders. She didn't even try to avoid the murky puddles and her feet felt the cold result of it. Misery enveloped her like a damp rag and made her queasy. All she wanted was a hot bath and a warm bed, but she knew that she would wake up the next morning with the same aching feeling in her chest. She decided to rise to the occasion and take the carriage into town. She needed to see what this was all about.

She alerted the stable boy and then quickly changed into a more presentable dress. She had a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach. Ari's sudden disappearance certainly had not been a last-minute decision. And she wasn't going to let him walk away without locking eyes with him one more time.

Writer Meredith LaFrance is a senior at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. She will be a freshman at the University of Oregon at Eugene next fall.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

"The Brown Madonna and Child"

By Camincha

Nina started. She tore up the gold metallic paper for the background and glued it so the jagged edges overlapped. Then she cut the child's and madonna's faces and hands out of a Safeway shopping bag. The dark brown paper she had chosen was the exact tone she wanted, the tone of her own skin, her mother's.

For the Madonna's robe and child's wrappings, Nina had bought bright color tissue paper magenta, mint green, azure, mango.

Next, worked on the Madonna's face, then the robe. Not easy, it took hours. Hours that spread over several weeks as she could only work on it evenings after a day at the office. And only if she wasn't too tired. And only if she got home early enough. Not always possible because of errands, her art class. And because she had Larry and wanted to spend time with him. And because even when he wasn't there, HE WAS, Yes. He was always on her mind. More since the engineering firm he worked for was transferring him out of San Francisco to Seattle.

Finally the Madonna emerged. Beautiful. She couldn't wait. She ran to the local art shop to have it framed. She told the store clerk: This Is a Madonna and Child.

href="">The clerk looked at the collage, then said, And child?

Nina explained, It's not finished.

The clerk was amused. People usually wait till the work is finished, she smiled.

A week later Nina picked it up. The gold-specked wooden frame she had chosen really brought the Madonna's figure to the forefront. Made it three dimensional. Regal in its simplicity. It emanated compassion, tenderness. Nina delighted took it home to finish her composition.

Larry phoned, I started to pack. You sure you won't relocate with me?

Nina was sure. As much as it hurt she had to face facts: They weren't getting along. He loved her, but resented her foreignness, her Peruvian friends, her Peruvian music, her Peruvian food. To go away with him would end in disaster.

SHE HANGED UP the collage and admired it for a few days before she found time to get back to it. Then lovingly designed, shaped and glued the figure of the child in its colorful wrappings. Next, went to work on the Madonna's hand holding the child. She worked diligently, one finger at a time. Just the way she had planned it. Nina drew long, graceful fingers on the brown paper.

She cut. Glued the hand in place and 1eft it to set overnight. Next day ran to admire it. Six graceful fingers stared at her ?*!*?*!

I have to concentrate. Stop thinking of Larry, she screamed. It took her two more tries before a five finger hand was finished And many, many more tries to get the child's face not to look like Humpty Dumpty's. In desperation, about to give up, decided to try just one more time. It worked.

Larry called, I've started taking down pictures.

She held his photo: That juicy, full lipped, heart-shaped mouth, his one outstanding feature. She decided the child's mouth would be perfectly heart-shaped with full lips. It worked.

NINA AND LARRY, a few days later, stood admiring the finished collage. Nina pointed out how she had immortalized him. Larry chuckled, flattered, amused.

Their parting kiss was sweet.

Camincha is the pen name for a writer in California. She is a frequent contributor to MyStoryLives.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


By Claudia Ricci

Ma is shouting at me but I’ve got the white running socks tied around my ears.

“You cannot go, do you hear me? Do you hear me? You’re crazy to go, there is so much flooding out there, there’s flooding everywhere, right down the street, one bridge is out. Do you hear me, Gina?”

I do, of course I hear her, I’d have to be deaf not to, but of course I don’t let her know that, I just stand there, sweaty and stinky and just staring her down, motioning to the wet socks, one tied over each ear.

Running socks I’ve just taken off. Wet socks. Wet shoes too. I think it’s funny. Wet shoes. Wet socks. Tied on my ears.

I have to laugh, so I do, but my humor is lost on her.

“Stop with the laughing. And take those stupid socks off your ears already. Take them damn socks off your ears and listen to me.”

I pull them off. “What?”

“Please don’t go, Gina. I don’t want you to, it’s not safe driving.

“Well, so I’ll take the train then.”

“NO!” Her finger comes up to my nose. “That's worse. It is supposed to rain some more today. What if the tracks are flooded? I want you to stay home.”

“No Ma, I’m not staying home. I was outside jogging and the rain has tapered off. Yeah there are puddles and the river is high but I’m driving away from the river. The hurricane is over.”

I shrug, as if to say, that is the end of that story.

But of course it isn’t. I am turning toward the steps, I have one bare foot on the first step up when she grabs my shoulder. Yanks my pony tail.

“Hey, stop that,” I yell, wrenching my hair out of her grip. But she’s got me back on her level now. That bony finger of hers is practically resting against my nose. I can smell the garlic she’s been chopping. And something else. Chlorox, maybe? The washing machine is chugging away down in the cellar.

“So you just think you can just ignore me, just walk away, just like that?” Her voice stands in some kind of desert. The sands are piling up.

I raise my voice over the hot dry wind. “Yeah, Ma, I can. Because I gotta get ready. If I’m gonna meet Jackson at noon, I gotta go and get ready. He’s only got six hours, I told you that.”

Her eyes flare. “So you stand there and tell me you can do whatever the hell you want to when you want to, no matter what? Even when they are saying tornados? Huh? Tornados, Gina. What about that? Huh? You wanna end up dead in a tornado?”

I close my eyes. “Ma, go look at the weather channel. The tornado warning is posted for the south. I’m going north. North, Ma. Fort Drum. It’s away from the tornadoes.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t like it. I don’t like you going up there anyway. Nobody should be driving up there today.”

“I told you he’s got only this afternoon. And then he ships off for…”

“I would just a soon he ships off for good and that you never see him again.”

I stare at her. I sew my bottom teeth into my top lip and I count to seven. And then, ten. I turn and start up the stairs again.

“You made a mistake, Gina,” she calls after me, “but now that’s over you don’t have to make another one.”

I bite into my lip so hard I taste blood. I have the wet socks in my hands and I started to wring them around my right fist. I feel my belly clench. The muscles know. They still remember the pains. The feelings are almost a year old, but I remember so well. I told Lauretta, my sister, that I felt like there were steel cables pulling across my abdomen. And then, in the end, just before the end, there was that flood of pain, like a freight train, barreling through me. Ripping apart my belly. And all that warm blood bathing the space between my legs.

All of that comes roaring out of my memory now. I wait a moment so I can collect myself. Then I turn to face her. I whisper. But lying below the whisper is a razor blade.

“Don’t you dare go down that road, Ma.” The tears are like hot wet beads crystalizing around my eyes. A couple drip over the soft ledges that are my cheeks. “You should know better. I deserve better.”

“Well, yeah, I deserve better too. I deserve you getting married. I deserve you going with somebody who can...”

"Who can what Ma?"

She stops. Maybe because I am sitting on the stairs now, a fist full of socks stuffed into my mouth. And I am starting to bawl, the sound muffled by the socks.

“Oh stop your crying. All I was saying was you are too good for him.”

I bolt to a standing position.

“Oh no, Ma. That’s not what you’re saying. You’re saying that he is too dark for you.”

“I am not saying that.”

“Yeah, but you’re thinking it. Say it, just say it why don't you? You want me to go with somebody who can do what? Huh? Give you a white grandson?”

“I don’t want to go into it. All I know is that you just assume you can do whatever the hell you want to do when you want to, go anyplace you want to, meet anybody you want to, no matter if there is a hurricane or a tornado or an earthquake. You are crazy. You are.”

“No, Ma, you are crazy. Because there has never been an earthquake here, ever. And there never will be. But if I have anything to say about it, there will be a black man in this family, whether you like it or not.”

I stand up and my heart pumps triple time, my bloody lip trembles, and I race the rest of the way up the stairs.

Writer Claudia Ricci teaches at the University at Albany, SUNY. She lives in Spencertown, New York.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Pain Cuts

By Lindsay Kirsch

The movies have it right. These things don’t happen on sunny days. The birds aren’t chirping and the leaves of the trees aren’t shimmering in the sun. These things don’t happen on days when the world is beautiful. The world is ugly, and so are the words. The tears streaming down the faces of the wounded victims, the innocent victims, match the cold rain falling from the clouds. The world is steely gray, and so are the words. The insides are gray, wet, and bloody.

The pain is monotonous. It has become so accustomed to its spot inside the insides that one has to stop to make sure it is still there, to make sure that it hasn’t fled during the night. But when one looks outside and sees the rain, and hears the words, one knows that the pain is still there. It will always be there.

Everyone is in their positions. The four innocent victims sit in their places. The youngest male is on his bike, ready to pedal anywhere that he can go to get away from the gray, harping pain. Regardless of how hard he pedals, though, he doesn’t go anywhere. He’s yet to learn that the pain doesn’t leave. Even if he finds his way out, the knot will be there when the wheels stop turning. The middle one holds the most deeply wounded, stroking her, hoping that her touch will ease the pain. She’s yet to learn that there is nothing that takes away from the throbbing of the heart, begging for something to put it back in place, unsure why it was rocked like this in the first place. The oldest holds the voice of reason, saying the words that no one else can mutter.

And the last one finds some words, just as gray, and shaky: “I just want this to be over.” It is over. We have heard the thunder coming from the mouths of the mourning, and we have seen the lightning strike from the eyes of the wounded. It is over.

And it is over on a rainy day. It wouldn’t have ended if the sun had come out. When the sun is out, the world can’t end. The lives of those pedaling, stroking, reasoning and shaking will not end on a sunny day. Just leave it to Mother Nature to set the right backdrop. The actors are dropped into their positions and they hear “ACTION!” and they accommodate the audience. They will play to the rain, they play out the pain because they know that they will never hear “CUT!”

They will be told they can stop but in reality they will always feel cut. The pain cuts, the words cut, the gray cuts, the rain cuts, the emotions are cut. Cut and dry. Life will go on but the pain won’t leave, or at least, it will never be forgotten. And they are only learning now that the rain is the backdrop, always, to the most painful movies of their lives.

Writer Lindsay Kirsch is a junior at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Her major is Latin and Caribbean Studies, and she has a double minor, in Spanish and English.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

MARTI ZUCKROWV "Dance on Paper"

"Just Because"

I had the great fortune of taking dance lessons at an
early age. It feels like I was born with a passion to
move. I wished I could fly and secretly made bargains
with a God I was told did not exist. (This from my
father.) The dance classes watered the kinesthetic
seeds already stirring in my young body; I was
encouraged to discover new movements, to stretch the
limits of what my body could do. Dance was my magic,
my power to transcend.

Our family was poor and had a hard times making ends
meet. Money for dance classes was not an option.
To help pay the rent, my parents took in borders.
Serendipity or just plain luck, they rented out two
back rooms to a young, newly married couple, Ellie, a
ballet dancer, and Eddie, a composer. It was Ellie,
who recognized the fire in me and convinced my mother
to enroll me in her movement classes, fees waived,

Back then, at the age of 6 and 7, I was
happy being me and happy with the girl body I
inhabited. I was at peace with myself.
Photos of me at 9 and 10 show a chubby girl, with
buckteeth and a buster brown haircut. By then, Ellie
and Eddie had moved out. Ellie kept in contact with
our family but gave up her dance classes in lieu of a
full time job. My lessons continued with another
teacher, Edith Segal, (again at no cost to my parents)
a legend in the Jewish Left Cultural world.

There I learned narrative dance, protesting war and racism and
Mc Carthy-bashing with dramatic movements rather then
words. When I danced, the freedom of my movements gave
me limitless joy. At other times though, self-
consciousness was rearing its ugly head. Discomfort
trailed me like a shadow. I learned to hold my
breath and try to make myself smaller, to take up
less space (the exact opposite of what nourished my
soul.) I don't know what triggered this destructive

Was it my girl body with the "down there"
that I'd discovered gave me pleasure, or the shame I
felt when kids at school blasted the "pinko's" who were
trying to save the Rosenberg's and I didn't speak up
and protect my parents. Somehow the two got mixed up.
My first clear memory of hating my body is from when
I was in the sixth grade. I sat next to Frankie
Acquinita, the cutest boy in the class, the wildest
boy in the group of nogoodnicks (my mother's term) he
hung around with, and the boy I wanted to go steady
with. His interest in me was straightforward: I could
provide him with enough correct answers to a test so
that he could get a passing grade, and for that and
that reason only, he was nice to me. Of course, the
minimal attention he showed me left me with goose
bumps and fantasies of showing up to the 8th-grade
prom with him as my date.

I had all ready begun stuffing my bra with those furry
pom pom like things the girls used to wear around
their necks in the 1950's, an accessory to the pink
angora sweater sets and the gray pleated skirts so
popular in my school, but I hadn't run into
unadulterated self-hatred of my female body. I
accepted my lackluster breasts, because I knew this
was only a temporary deformity. I was fated to grow
knockers (another inherited term) like my mother and
her two sisters had.

They all cursed their huge breasts, bemoaning the fact
that finding a comfortable brassiere was impossible,
not to mention the expense.

All of a sudden, when I hit 6th grade and got assigned
the seat next to Frankie; my stomach became my enemy.
It stuck out. And my chin. It wasn't strong and
angular the way the all American blond girls in
Seventeen magazines looked as they posed in happy
groups of two and three. I had a receding chin.
Frankie's view of me in the small wooden desk on my
left was my profile. There was no way I could hide my
hideousness from him. I remember squirming in my seat
until I was reprimanded by our teacher, a short
muscular man who hated his job and let the class know
he'd rather be anywhere else.

The best solution I came up with was to place a textbook
on my belly and hold it there to hide the bulge I imagined as huge as a
whale. I placed my other hand on my puny chin and
angled my head to the right while sticking out my fake
breasts in Frankie's direction. Needless to say, this
took much concentration and refinement. Oblivious of
my intentions, Frankie's eyes landed on my test
answers, or on the paper airplanes he made and sailed
through the room whenever the opportunity arose.
Anatomically speaking, my girlfriends and I spanned
the spectrum of overdeveloped wannabe almost teenager
to scrawny flat chested tomboy. I was somewhere in the
middle: I was great at punch ball, able to outrun
many of the boys in our class, and aspired to be as
sexy as Marilyn Monroe.

Seated opposite Frankie Acquinta, self destruction
set in. I experienced a debilitating split; my mind
shouting at my body," you are disgusting." I couldn't
remember the "me" from before those words. I no
longer fit in my skin. My ugliness was oozing out all
around me and there was no where to run.
I have spent most of my 63 years battling "fat
thoughts." In many ways, dance has helped me. I
found a way to rise above my badgering mind and live
in my body. It's time for me to live in my body and
love it, JUST BECAUSE.) I hope to get there before
my time runs out.