Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway

I am coming off of a weekend of writing with the Murphy Writing of Stockton University Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and it has been such a blessing to spend four intense days surrounding myself with a supportive community of writers, crafting language and navigating new stories, during a time when history is being written, and everything in our world seems bleak.

I was fortunate enough to have intimate and engaging workshops led by Peter Murphy, Dilruba Ahmed, Catherine Doty, Cynthia Dewi Oka, and Emari DiGiorgio.

We celebrated Sunday night with a delightful reading and Q&A by featured speaker Ross Gay, whose humor and gracious spirit lit up our Zoom rooms.

Murphy Writing of Stockton University - School of General Studies |  Stockton University

Every day brought on the challenge of a unique writing prompt, and I left the Getaway armed with four new solid drafts, new friends, and a notebook penned with inspiration.

I couldn’t have attended without the financial help of the Toni Brown Memorial Scholarship, so again- thank you to the entire Murphy Writing crew and committee for choosing my work so that I could have this opportunity!

And then we got to witness the incredible force that is Amanda Gorman move the world with her words on Inauguration Day?! It is a good week for poetry, indeed.

To writing on,

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Prose Before Bros

Yes, I said it.

I thought I was in love when I kissed my first crush, Seth, on the cheek when I was seven. We were behind a tree during a family camping retreat for the Boy Scouts, which both he and my brother were part of. (Smart girl-learning to break hearts at a young age.)

…But it wasn’t exactly a fairy tale ending.  He immediately straightened his glasses, gave me a weird look, and ran away. We didn’t speak after that. But that’s okay, because I learned a different love- escaping with a book instead of chasing boys.

Since then, writers from Sylvia Plath to J.K. Rowling paved the way for my love of literature. Teachers from elementary school to college classes taught me to create my own by nurturing and guiding my craft. I couldn’t ever explain it, but words empowered me. I mean, who needs a man when you’ve got countless characters to fall in love with? There was nothing quite like losing myself entirely in a story, or better yet, discovering myself between its pages in the process. And when I wrote? Indescribable. It was like I held the power. Let’s get real here- The last lines of Sylvia Plath’s Lady Lazarus are a perfect example.

“Herr God, Herr Lucifer
Beware
Beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.”

Come onnnnn. It still gives me chills! But somewhere between that first kiss to writing poetry in my bedroom to getting my first apartment, I lost touch with the paper and pen. When I wrote in college, it was only for an assignment. I stopped reading for pleasure altogether. In fact, I stopped reading. I skimmed, or would use Google. And I definitely couldn’t remember the last time I sat down to write for me. I was caught up in relationships and social life,  and then just trying to get a job like most college grads. Then I got a job and an apartment, and was trying to figure out happiness and paying the bills but still traveling, and what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. (Spoiler alert: I still don’t know.) When I finally wrote again, it was hard. It sucked. I wasted years not reading and writing, and all I could see was how far behind I was.

Which brings me to the here and now. I created this blog to keep writing, and as a place to bring my stories of travel. I joined a writing class. I’ve been submitting my work.

I delayed posting until this week because I was waiting to hear whether or not I got accepted to the 2016 Sigma Tau Delta’s International Convention, and I am THRILLED to announce that I received the e-mail last night.

So hold on. What exactly is Sigma Tau Delta, you may ask? First off, it is not a sorority. It also isn’t a sexually transmitted disease. Although that is, in fact, what the acronym implies. Ha. STD is an International English Honor Society.  (And yes, believe me, we tried to get “Prose Before Bros” or “STD: Gotta read ’em all!” as our T-shirt sayings, but it didn’t stand a chance against administration.)

I joined Sigma Tau Delta in 2010, and, in my junior year of college, presented at the 2011 Convention March 23-26th in Pittsburgh, PA (shown below). The convention theme was “Beyond Words.”

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With friends Samantha and Laura, exploring the ‘burgh and attending presentations (below).

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Practice makes perfect!

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I presented an original poem, “Discoloration” which I wrote about my father.

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 A year later in 2012,  I had the time of my life at the convention, which was held in New Orleans, LA from February 29-March 3. The convention theme that year was “Reawaken.” New Orleans was a beautiful city, and I heard such beautiful writing in the sessions I attended. I was a senior in college then, and even now I am amazed by the memories I made there, from Bourbon Street to friendships I stumbled into. I hope to go back someday.  I’m still craving beignets from Café du Monde…

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Some classmates/fellow STD members with our professor, Dr. Andrew Ade (above) and below at the Red & Black Gala Dinner and Convention Awards.

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I told you I take eating seriously.

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Presenting poetry from my collection “The Art of Baptizing.”

Now, it has been over three years since I graduated college. I rediscovered Sigma Tau Delta recently and joined the Alumni Epsilon Chapter. Shortly thereafter, I realized I could still submit, and if accepted, present at the convention. Naturally, I was stoked and submitted as soon as I could pull something together. I have been racking my brain waiting these past couple months to see whether or not I would be accepted. Seriously. Not knowing was brutal, and so was trying to prepare myself for rejection.

But, this has a fairy tale ending after all. I am so happy to announce that this year, I am one of 24 Sigma Tau Delta alumni that will present at the convention in Minneapolis, MN from March 2-5, 2016. The convention theme is “Finding Home.” I will be reading ten poems from my collection “From This Side of the Sun.”

Are there any other Sigma Tau Delta members out there? Would love to connect with you!

 

Stay classy readers,

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P.S. I went to Minnesota when I was younger and all I remember is the Mall of America. What is at the top of your list for things to see & do in the City of Lakes?
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The Mark I Left

*As promised in my Madwomen In the Attic post, here is my first draft for my creative nonfiction workshop.

***UPDATE: This piece was published in Longridge ReviewCheck it out here!***

 

 

The Mark I Left

I run my hands gingerly over the white and tan splotches of matted fur on my new Calico kitten. We got her a week or so ago, from a woman getting rid of a whole litter. She promised she had all her shots but she just couldn’t take care of all of them anymore. The kitten was thin, probably sick. But that would change now that she was mine.

She squirms in my arms, escaping. With hesitant steps, she explores her new jungle of four acres of wide open land. She darts around my bare feet, pawing at dandelions, and then lowers to the ground, ready to pounce. As I watch her hunt, I think back to last week when I held her alone in my bedroom. She would not stop crying. She meowed relentlessly, and when I tried to pick her up, claws extended and sharp teeth sunk fast and hard into my sensitive skin. Red lines rose, etching marks on my hands.

I did not think, She was just scared.

I did not think, It’s okay, it was just self-defense.

I did not consider the condition of the home the kitten knew before mine.

Furious, I opened one of my empty dresser drawers, plopped that stupid kitten inside, and slammed it shut it. That’ll show it. I pictured it in the dark, afraid and deeply regretting it had ever thought to leave marks on me. Well, good. The kitten had to learn that I was in charge. If she didn’t behave, I would punish her. That’s just how it works.

I left the kitten there for a few minutes until my rage abated, and remorse quickly washed over me.  I didn’t want to hurt her, that was never my intention.  But I couldn’t deny how powerful it felt to be in control for once.  It was impossible for her to get out of the drawer without me. She needed me.

In a way, we were the same. She was small and helpless, and I was accustomed to that role. The baby of the family, I was always being told what to do, forever a puppet on a stage with an older brother or a parent pulling the strings. My parents had my brother, Ryan, and I to attend to, full-time jobs, and bills to pay. Ryan had dirt bikes to ride, a punching bag in the form of a little sister, and better things to do than be bothered with some “dumb cat.” But forget any of that. This living animal was mine. I alone held the power. I knew that I was the stronger, bigger one.

Her fate was in my hands. For the first time I was the one to restrain, not be restrained, and it felt good. I could see why my brother liked it. The thought sickened me as I stared down at my hands in disbelief.  Even at eight years old, I knew that feeling was wrong. My mother would never do this kind of thing. Only bad caretakers would. Fear plummeted to the pit of my stomach.  What does this make me?

“Come on, we are going to be late!” my mother calls from inside. I hurry to climb shotgun into our sky blue Plymouth Voyager, leaving the kitten down in the grass. We are already late for a meeting at church, and I can hear the stress in my mother’s voice rising as she rushes down the stairs, carrying so many bags over her shoulders and under her eyes. She held so much of my world together. If that’s what being a mom meant, I don’t believe I could ever do it.

The sound of the ignition interrupts my reverie as our old van springs to life, and my mom flings her purse in the space between our seats. She puts it in reverse, steps hard on the gas, and that’s when I feel it. So fast I don’t even have time to process what the bump meant, then so painfully slowly, leaving me breathless as if my own lungs are the ones being crushed. Tiny ribs collapsing, the weight of an eight passenger van and two human bodies, alive and breathing, as life is sucked from a kitten, not yet one month old.

My mom quickly jams it into park and falls silent with the realization. It’s almost as if the world stops and gasps, watching, waiting.  I throw open the passenger door and scream, seeing the tread of the tires imprinted on the patched white fur. The mark I left. I know I am going to be sick. Bones and blood and whiskers and more blood. Blinded by hot tears, I go to hold the limp head in the palm of my hand but stop when I see its pink pearl nose. Just minutes ago it was wet and soft. Now, guts gush through nostrils. They push out, pouring red and already caking over in the hot July sun.

I realize I am still howling. Was this because of me? I know things about accidents, a little about death, some about pain. I know bodies have spines and heads and hearts and bones, and blood. There is so much blood. I wonder if this is God’s way of punishing me. I wonder if God will pluck me from this driveway and shove me in a box and slam it shut. That doesn’t happen, but I feel the guilt just the same. Death doesn’t care what mark it leaves.

Although numb, I force myself into motion. I stand up with skinned knees, spinning around wildly to face my mother, and choke out the words,

“You.

Killed.

Her.” 

I am hysterical, repeating it over and over again, wailing so loud I’m sure the Kilburn’s next door could hear, despite the overgrown fields between us. Everything inside me breaks. My mom is at my side instantly, smoothing my hair and whispering apologies. We don’t say it, but I think we both knew it was my fault. We lived in the middle of nowhere and left our pets outside all the time, but this was different and I knew it.

Why did I leave the kitten so close the driveway? I should have kept her inside. Why didn’t I check to see where she was before getting in the van? How could you be so stupid? Good job, moron, I could already hear my brother saying. I block out his voice in my head. I can’t think of that right now. Forget this church meeting, I don’t care. I insist we hold a funeral for her right then and there. We can at least give her that. My mom obliges, albeit reluctantly, and disappears into the basement, emerging with a cardboard box for a coffin.

“We have to put holes in the top,” I say. I had learned this is necessary for creatures to still breathe. She doesn’t remind me that the kitten is already dead and this is useless, but instead pokes holes through the top of the box. And then my mother, still in her black pumps, follows me to the woods. She carries the kitten’s lifeless body in the curved belly of one of my father’s shovels. I choose a spot next to one of my favorite trees, feeling the heavy box hit against the side of my leg as I walk up the hill. I tell her we should pray, or give a speech like I saw them do at my uncle’s funeral last year. She bows her head to pray, but I hear nothing.

My head is spinning. I am wondering if Jesus will forgive us. For how I kept that kitten trapped in my dresser drawer, for making my mother late for her meeting, for not paying attention to where the kitten was, for everything.  I look down at the dandelions I’ve picked to cover the grave, and realize I never even named her. Perhaps I knew, even at that age, that she wouldn’t stay with me for long.

Seventeen years later, when my mind has a better understanding of motherhood, and my hands know how to hold something fragile, I still feel my lungs give out at the question, “When are you having kids?”  Distant family members will ask me, trapping me at the dinner table during holidays. It is suffocating. I wonder sometimes if God forgot to poke holes in the top of my box.

When I try to explain to people that I just don’t want children, I give them reasons like finances and freedom. I don’t say how I am afraid of what my own two hands could do, or how you can love something so hard and still not keep anything safe in this world. I do not reveal my choking insecurities and how I feel unfit to care for another. Nobody asks. I know they label me heartless, but it seems easier to ignore that.  Because it’s hard to explain how when love and death and fear gripped the axles of a four door van, and guilt flowed freely into the four chambers of my heart like blood out onto hot asphalt, this decision buried itself in my womb many summers ago.

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