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Fall/Winter 2021-2022 edition of Magnets and Ladders

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2021-2022

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Kate Chamberlin, Abbie Johnson Taylor, Winslow Parker, and Bonnie Blose
  • Nonfiction: John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Bonnie Blose, and Brad Corallo
  • Poetry: Abbie Johnson Taylor, Leonard Tuchyner, Brad Corallo, and Sandra Streeter
  • Technical Assistants: Jayson Smith

Submission Guidelines

Writers with disabilities may submit up to three selections per issue. Deadlines are February 15 for the Spring/Summer issue, and August 15 for the Fall/winter issue. Writers must disclose their disability in their biography or in their work. Biographies may be up to 100 words in length, and should be written in third-person.

Do not submit until your piece is ready to be considered for publication. Rewrites, additions, deletions, or corrections are part of the editorial process, and will be suggested or initiated by the editor.

Poetry maximum length is 50 lines. Memoir, fiction, and nonfiction maximum length is 2500 words. In all instances, our preference is for shorter lengths than the maximum allowed. Please single-space all submissions, and use a blank line to separate paragraphs and stanzas. It is important to spell check and proofread all entries. Previously published material and simultaneous submissions are permitted provided you own the copyright to the work. Please cite previous publisher and/or notify if work is accepted elsewhere.

We do not feature advocacy, activist, “how-to,” or “what’s new” articles regarding disabilities. Innovative techniques for better writing as well as publication success stories are welcome. Content will include many genres, with limited attention to the disability theme. Announcements of writing contests with deadlines beyond April 1 and October 1 respectively are welcome.

Have You Published a book? If you would like to have an excerpt of your book published in an issue of Magnets and Ladders, please submit a chapter or section of your book to The word count for fiction and nonfiction book excerpt submissions should not exceed twenty-five hundred words. Poetry book excerpts should be limited to five poems. Please include information about where your book is available in an accessible format. We will publish up to one book excerpt per issue.

Authors under age 18: Please include a statement from a parent or guardian that indicates awareness of your submission of literary work to Magnets and Ladders.

Do you have a skill, service, or product valued by writers? For a minimum contribution of $25.00 we will announce it in the next two issues of “Magnets and Ladders”. All verifications of products or services provided are the responsibility of our readers. Book cover design? Copyediting? Critiques? Formatting for publication? Internet access or web design? Marketing assistance? Special equipment? Make your donation through PayPal (see or by check by March/September 1. 100-word promotional information is due by February/August 15. Not sure about something? Email All donations support Magnets and Ladders.

Please email all submissions to Paste your submission and bio into the body of your email or attach in Microsoft Word format. If submitting Word documents, please put your name and the name of your piece at or near the top of the document. Submissions will be acknowledged within two weeks. You will be notified if your piece is selected
for publication.

Final author approval and review is necessary if changes are needed beyond punctuation, grammar, and sentence or paragraph structure. We will not change titles, beginnings, endings, dialog, poetic lines, the writer’s voice, or the general tone without writer collaboration. If your work is selected for inclusion in a future “Behind Our Eyes” project, you will be notified; your approval and final review will be required. To insure we can contact you regarding future projects, please keep us updated if your Email address changes.

About Behind Our Eyes

Behind Our Eyes, Inc. is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization enhancing the opportunities for writers with disabilities. Our anthology published in 2007, “Behind Our Eyes: Stories, Poems, and Essays by Writers with Disabilities”, is available at Amazon and from other booksellers. It is available in recorded and Braille format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped.

“Behind Our Eyes, a Second Look” is available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other booksellers, and in E-book format on Amazon Kindle. It is also available in recorded format from the National Library Service for the Blind and Physically Handicapped. See our book trailer on Youtube at

Several members of our group meet by moderated teleconference twice monthly to hear speakers; share work for critique; or receive tips on accessibility, publication, and suggested areas of interest.

Our mailing list is a low-traffic congenial place to share work in progress; learn about submission requests; and to ask and answer writing questions. If you would like to join our group and receive access to our phone conferences and mailing list, please complete our quick and easy membership form at

If you would like to learn more about Behind Our Eyes, or if you would like to make a donation, please visit our website at

Table of Contents

Editors’ Welcome

Hello: I hope you had a fun filled summer and are enjoying the cooler days of fall.

In September, the Behind Our Eyes community was shocked and saddened by the sudden death of our President, Bonnie Blose. Along with recently holding the offices of President and Vice President, Bonnie was the chair of the programming committee and was involved in other committees. See a memorial section for Bonnie following “The Editors' Welcome” and see “The Writers' Climb” for a contest honoring Bonnie. Her enthusiasm and golden voice will be missed by all of us.

The Fall/Winter issue is packed with poems, stories and articles to keep you entertained over the upcoming months. Although we don't have specific sections about snow or the holidays, there are several pieces that feature snow or the holidays in some way. See how many you can find.

I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members and to Marilyn Brandt Smith and Jason Smith for your hard work and support throughout the production process.

We had contests with cash prizes in fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. There were many great submissions so our committee members had a challenging time selecting contest winners. Below are the Magnets and Ladders Fall/winter 2021-2022 contest winners.

  • Fiction:

  • First Place: “Before the Fall” by Nicole Massey

  • Second Place: “Mother Gremlin” by Leonard Tuchyner
  • Honorable Mention: “A Class Reunion” by Greg Pruitt
  • Honorable Mention: “Pantry” by Susan Muhlenbeck

  • Nonfiction:

  • First Place: “Chronicles of Spain, 1966 in a Grassy Field” by Kate Chamberlin

  • Second Place: “There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness,” book excerpt by M. Leona Godin
  • Honorable Mention: “Seniorland” by Jeff Flodin
  • Honorable Mention: “Transformations: Creating an Author” by Kathleen King

  • Poetry:

  • First Place: “Tall and Black: A Poem of Experience” by Winslow Parker

  • Second Place: “Wishes for a Homeless Person” by Alice Jane-Marie Massa
  • Honorable Mention: “Winterness” by Brad Corallo
  • Honorable Mention: “Staggered Breathing” by Sandra Streeter

Congratulations to all of the contest winners.

The Magnets and Ladders staff hopes that you have a safe and happy holiday season.

Part I. In Memory of Bonnie Blose


Bonnie Blose was a member of Behind Our Eyes for several years. She had recently held the office of Vice President and was our President when she was hospitalized and diagnosed with cancer. Bonnie went into the hospital on August 26 and passed away on September 17.

Bonnie had amazing interviewing skills and a great love of books. She showed her love of books and shared her interviewing gift in many ways. She lead book discussion groups and was a member of book related mailing lists. From 2006 to 2013 Bonnie hosted “Books and Beyond” which aired on ACB radio. As the chair of the Behind Our Eyes programming committee, she brought a variety of guests to the Sunday night conference calls and through her interviewing skills, we all gained a wealth of knowledge. In 2021, she began writing a column, “beyond the Book Jacket” for the Blind Perspective.

As a member of the Magnets and Ladders fiction and nonfiction committees, her ability to analyze plot construction and character development were extremely helpful.

Bonnie's dedication, wisdom and immense love for the written word will be missed.

The Art of Dying, memoir
by Bonnie Blose

“I think you should see Grandpa before you leave for school,” my father said somberly. “I don’t think he has very long.”

With those words, fear entered the kitchen and took residence in my heart on that April day.

“I’ll see him when I get home. If I don’t leave right now, I’ll miss the bus.”

“He may not be here then. You may not have another chance.”

Climbing those stairs to my grandfather’s room was the last thing I wanted to do, but I managed to find the courage. Since he was unable to speak, I stood quietly by his bed for just a few moments and then left. Through the wall that connected our two rooms in the double house we shared with my grandparents, I had spent a long night listening to my grandfather’s labored breathing. My father had no idea how difficult what he was asking would be.

At the age of six, my childhood friend Barbara died the very night after I stayed over at her house. Both totally blind since birth, we met in a special education class. As I made my way to my grandfather’s room, I remembered what happened at her viewing. My dad asked if I would like to say goodbye. When I said yes, he took my hand. We walked across the room. He placed my hand on something hard and cold. It was Barbara. I was touching her, and she was dead. It took everything in me not to scream.

Would I have to touch grandpa too? I shuddered at the thought.

As my father had predicted, my grandfather died four hours later, succumbing at 69 to an end brought on by a heart attack and effects of long-term drinking. I was 13.

Although I knew he was gone, I could still hear the sound of his heavy breathing on the other side of the door. Would death come to steal me too? Could its hunger ever be satisfied? Was anyone strong enough to keep it at bay? Who would listen to my fears?

I had learned early that people leave. Like a thief in the night, death stalks its prey. It always wins. When my grandfather died, I knew no one could save me if death had other plans. Too afraid to sleep in my room, I started sleeping on the living room couch.

“I know why you sleep downstairs,” my brother Rick said. “You’re afraid grandpa will come take you away if you sleep in your room.”

“No, I’m not. I just like sleeping down here,” I denied hotly.

We didn’t use the word death in my family. If it was referred to at all, it was couched in phrases such as, “the last time I saw him, I thought it would happen soon. He didn’t look good.” “I was afraid of that. She looked so sick when I saw her a couple weeks ago.”

Hospitals offered little hope. If someone went to a doctor, he would probably send them to the hospital. I would never see that person again.

In July of 1974, my sister called with devastating news. She told me our mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I was attending a college preparatory program at Syracuse University for part of that summer. During the drive home, my father told me she was dying. When I was not visiting my mother at the hospital, I could forget the intravenous medications and hospital smells of her room. I could remember her planting flowers and caring for the family she loved. In daily phone conversations, she tried hard to hide her pain. I tried hard not to notice. It was a dance of denial designed to keep the truth away a little longer. One day, in a voice filled with pain so deep I could have cut it with a knife, I knew she was really dying. Although neither of us said the words, death was there on the phone line between us.

My mother died four days after her 58th birthday. That August day changed my life. I had just turned 21. How could loved ones just disappear?

In college, I took a course on Death And Dying, interviewed half a dozen people about the death of someone close to them. The fear remained.

In a late night conversation, I told a friend two boys I had crushes on in high school died two years after I graduated. Attempting to lighten the serious mood, she called me “Typhoid Bonnie.” I wondered if there was some truth in those words. Why was death such a huge part of my life?

Many years later, I became a friend of a woman who would change my view of dying. Alice attended a local church. The minister there introduced us. He thought she might help me with grocery shopping.

As our friendship grew, we shared a love of books and spent hours at local libraries. Alice Carroll would describe pictures on book covers saying, “Oh, this sounds so good. Listen to this. I have to read this.” Alice loved steamy romances, fast-paced murder mysteries and true crime. She enjoyed the Christian fiction of Janette Oke and Grace Livingston Hill. My friend loved life and lived it joyfully, enthusiastically, completely. I looked forward to many more hours talking and laughing with her experiencing complete happiness in being a part of her world.

One day, she called with exciting news.

“Guess what?” she said.

“I can’t imagine,” I replied, smiling in to the phone, eager to hear her news. “Just tell me.”

“My daughter Lucy is going to have a baby. I’m so excited.”

“That’s wonderful news. I am so thrilled for you.”

The months flew by. Lucy had a baby girl she named Casey. At a yard sale one Saturday, she told me how much she was looking forward to rocking her. Unfortunately, she had no rocking chair. We found one at that yard sale. I bought it for her wishing her many hours of rocking her grandbaby as she drifted into sleep.

“Have you heard Alice Carroll is in the hospital?” my son Kevin asked a few months later.

“No. I just saw her last week. We went grocery shopping. Will she be in long?”

“Mom, Alice Carroll is dying. She has pancreatic cancer. The minister of her church told me. He wanted me to tell you.”

I remembered a day just a few months before. Alice and I were going on a picnic to a local park with my dog Sunshine. She called me at the last minute saying she did not feel well. I told her she was probably just getting a cold. Was that day a harbinger of what was to come?

I went to the hospital to see her several times over the next couple months. Always positive and filled with absolute faith, she never lost hope. Over and over, Alice told me God would work everything out. We discussed how she felt about dying. Although money was limited, Alice Carroll was rich in spirit. She counted her blessings, a family, friends, a life she loved. I thought of the baby just a few months old Alice would never rock or hold again. How could she be so ready to go?

During my last visit to her in the hospital, I started to cry. I wiped the tears away quickly, hoping she hadn’t seen. “Please don’t hide your tears, Bonnie. They show me you love me. Everyone tries so hard to hide their feelings. Don’t ever hide love. It’s fine to cry in front of me. I understand.”

“I will miss you so much. You shouldn’t have to see me sad. I should be here for you.”

“Bonnie, you are here for me. I care about how you feel, that you hurt. I just want you to be honest with me. I am sad that all we have done together is going to end too. I have had a good life. I am ready. Please believe that. I love you and I am so glad I got to know you. We had so much fun together.”

Alice Carroll died a few days later two weeks before Thanksgiving. In her dying, she taught me much about living. I learned dying could be done graciously if life was lived that way. She taught me the value of reliving the treasured moments I cherished. In our time together, I realized both life and death require tremendous courage and could be faced without fear or bitterness. Her dying was happening to both of us. Alice never forgot that. May I have the courage and grace Alice Carroll had when I turn that page.

“The Art of Dying” was published in the Fall/Winter 2012-2013 edition of Magnets and Ladders and in Behind Our Eyes: a Second Look.

Bio: Bonnie Blose grew up in Slatedale, Pennsylvania with two fabulous storytellers. For 15 years, she cohosted Jordan Rich's book show nights on WBz. From 2006 to 2013, she was the host of the show “Books and Beyond” on Her memoirs and fiction have been winners in the NFB Writers' Division contests. She enjoyed reading, listening to music, podcasts, and had lived in Ohio since 1982. She was proud of being owned by her cat Almost. Her son Kevin lives in a nearby town.

We Have a Choice, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Note: This previously written piece is now and forever dedicated to Bonnie. If possible, shine even brighter old friend!

Why among our people is death such a diminishment?
Why not a transcendent moment of joyful release?

The spirit, ascending in brilliant radiance.
Striding boldly into the next realm of being.

Announcing its arrival with unquenchable energy.
To begin anew, with wisdom gained.
And a chance to reach new heights of compassion and understanding.

Perhaps the Vikings had the right idea.
To send their fallen heroes boldly home,
in fiery triumph;
to sit at table with the Gods.

None among us know the truth of death.
So it is in our power to choose:
to plod on in sorrow with eyes upon the ground
or to rejoice in the release and freedom of a shining spirit,
no longer bound by the constraints of matter.
On the threshold of a new adventure;
one step closer to reunion in the Clearlight.

“We have a Choice” was previously published in the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of Magnets and Ladders.

Bio: Brad Corallo, a writer in multiple genres, is a Long Island native. His work has been published in eleven previous issues of Magnets & Ladders, in the William B. Joslin Outstanding Program Awards Journal NYSID Preferred Source Solutions and by The Red Wolf Coalition. He has been a life-long student of fine wine, food, music, books, space exploration, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. He makes his living as a certified rehabilitation counselor (CRC) and mental health therapist. Due to LCA (a very rare genetic retinal condition) Brad has experienced impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime.

Part II. Not What I expected

Before the Fall, fiction First Place
by Nicole Massey

I sat in the auditorium in horror as my daughter performed on stage. Each work was an additional pain as the applause grew louder and stronger and Mary basked in the audience's regard. I looked with loathing at that fell instrument, the piano, that Satan wrought to lure good girls and women into a life of pride, arrogance, and self-adulation. And it was then I knew that such wickedness would not take my daughter. She wouldn't be led away from her duties as a future wife, mother, and homemaker onto a path of false honors and wantonness.

I was silent on the way home, minding the gait of the horses as Mary and her mother twittered on about the concert, two birds making a beautiful noise that did nothing to bring them to a higher communion with the Lord. As we traveled I grew more disgusted with my wife, who seemed to support Mary's wanderings from the path of righteousness. I also cursed my moral failing, as I allowed that evil instrument into the house and even enjoined a teacher for my child, selling her to the devil in my ignorance.

I took my time back home, brushing the horses and checking the carriage to make sure it was in good working order when next it was required for our service. I decided that we would use it the next day, as it was far too long since we'd made it to the church for morning services. I was sure that my daughter's accolades were punishment from on high for this failing, and with proper observance we'd get her back on the right road again and away from temptation.

Back inside I carried the lantern through our home and up the stairs to the master bedchamber. My wife was dressed for bed, so I stripped off my clothes and got into my nightshirt before trimming the lantern. The click of her needles started to lull me to sleep, as they did each night, but before I drifted off I said, “We're going to church tomorrow morning.”

The clicking stopped. “Are you sure, Jonas? It's been a late evening tonight with Mary's recital.”

I felt a flash of anger. “Elizabeth, are you questioning me?”

She was fast to respond. “No, of course not, my dear, just making sure so I can plan breakfast. You're not at your best when you've not had your rest.”

“Our lord suffered far worse in the desert.”

“Of course, dear.”

I was not ready to wake when she shook my shoulder, but the smell of biscuits and coffee got me out of bed. Mary was also tired, and she fell asleep on the way to church.

When we arrived, Parson Jacobs came over to welcome us. “Doctor Shipton, It's good to see you and your family this morning.”

I nodded. “Thank you, Parson. I figure we've been too long from your sermons and the fellowship of our church.”

His next words made me question my decision. “Would Mary like to play for us this morning? Perhaps some of the hymns?”

Before my wife or daughter could speak I said, “I'd like for her to listen instead of perform. I think there's a message she needs to hear, Parson.”

He closed his eyes with a slight nod. I hoped I'd reminded him of what was important. “Ah” was all he said.

On the way back home I said, “Mary, did you get anything out of the parson's sermon today?”

She thought for a moment, rubbing her temples. “Well, Papa, I've heard it before.”

“We get new insights each time we hear a particular sermon. The scriptures have deep meanings.”

“Well, it sounds like the son who kept his talents in the dirt and didn't grow them is about using what you're given to get the most out of it. I'm inspired to spend more time practicing so I can take this gift the Lord gave me and make the most out of it.”

As she chattered on about the piano my heart sank. The Devil had a hold on my child, and unless I took some stern measures I was going to lose her to sin.

After Sunday dinner she asked if she could go practice, and without giving me a chance to swallow my bite, her mother let her go to serve her demonic master.

“Jonas, what's wrong?”

“Since when did you decide when it was time for my child to leave the table?”

“Oh, dear, I'm sorry. I didn't know you wanted her to stay.”

“You didn't give me time to say so.” I bunched up my napkin and tossed it down on my half-empty plate.

Her eyes grew wide – it was not my habit to leave food uneaten. It showed wastefulness.

I got up. “I've got something to do. You can clean up.”

I walked into the parlor, the sounds of the piano ringing in my ears like the bells heralding the end of days. As I walked in Mary stopped playing. “Hi, Papa.”

I looked at the vile case of corruption. “Mary, where is this going to lead?”

“I don't know, Papa.”

“Think about it, girl. Where will all this practicing take you?”

“Well, if I'm lucky, it'll take me to more recitals. I love playing for people.”

“I bet you love the applause too, don't you?” She was lost in her dreams, so she missed the harsh tone in my voice.

“I do, Papa. I love that I can make them happy, and that my playing can make them forget their troubles for a while.”

I knew what I had to do then. I hated that it had come to this, but as her father I had no choice if I was going to save her soul.

“Mary, I want you to close your eyes and put your hands on the piano like you're going to play one of your songs for a room full of people.”

She did as she was told. “Yes, Papa.”

“I want you to think about what it feels like. The pride and joy of it. How you can control all those people, make them forget their cares and troubles and responsibilities.”

“Okay, Papa.”

“What does it feel like?”

“It feels wonderful. I love being able to help them like that.”

I saw the smile on her face, the tilt of her proud head. I was glad I couldn't see her eyes, those eyes of hers that looked so much like her mother's, those eyes that would gleam with the arrogance and pride at soothing pain that should be reserved not for things of the earth, but reserved for the almighty.
And then I saw her hands, those delicate long fingers that coaxed so much beauty from this vile instrument. And I slammed the keyboard lid down on those beautiful hands, so fast she couldn't remove them in time. And as she fell back off that seat of Satan I saw those long slender fingers twisted, bent, and shaking in pain. Mary clutched her ruined hands to her breast, wailing in agony. I looked down at her and her mangled paws. I or any of my fellow doctors could set them well enough so she could do her duty, but she'd never be able to play like she did again. Those hands were now proper woman's hands, suitable for cooking, cleaning, and holding babies. But they'd never lead her away from her appropriate role again. And though it hurt me so much to do this to my only child, it was what I had to do.

The next day, as I helped Mr. Fischer's boy in getting the piano out of the parlor, he heard Mary sobbing. He looked at the keyboard cover and said, “I've never heard of one of these doing this before.”

I shrugged. “Don't know what to say. But I want it out of my house. I don't think it's good for my daughter to have it around.”

As his wagon clopped off I went back inside. It was my prison, my own den of suffering. Elizabeth didn't say anything about what I had done. But she was no longer my loving wife, and I knew that she'd do her duty and no more until death parted us. She's only a woman, so I can't expect her to understand. A man's got to do what's right for his family, and that’s between him and the Lord. And every time I see Elizabeth averting her eyes when I look at her, I'll remember that I saved my child from the devil, and that's enough to take me to Judgement Day.

Bio: Nicole Massey is a writer, composer, and songwriter living in Dallas, Texas. She writes in multiple genres, including mainstream fiction, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, and romance. She also writes for role-playing game fan magazines. She lost her sight in 2003. She is happy to report that she received a kidney transplant in April 2021. She can be reached at nyyki at gypsyheir dot com.

Mother Gremlin, fiction Second Place
by Leonard Tuchyner

I had just laid my mother to rest in her eternal grave. It was a normal service as graveside services go. I had all the mixed feelings that come with burying one's mother. They were, well …, mixed. I loved her, of course. Of course, I did. She was my mother, after all. But — and I use the word 'but' advisedly– she could be a pain at times. So why, you may ask, was I driving the car alone? Well, it just so happened that my wife slipped and fell while walking off our porch headed to the driveway.

It was one of those freakish accidents where the fall caused her to sprain her ankle and arm. So, she needed help getting back to the house. We were already running late. The only ones around to help her were my ten and fourteen-year-old kids, Jeremy and Kimberly. I couldn't be late, so I had to leave them. I saw Joan, my wife, crawling on her knees back to the house, with my two youngsters urging her on. I know now that the sprained arm and ankle was no coincidence.

Anyway, I was feeling bad about leaving them in that situation, but what choice did I have? When I got to the graveyard, I had to explain all of that to the significant others who were there to send my mother off on her eternal journey. Or so I thought.

As I originally was saying, I was driving home when suddenly I noticed a woman sitting next to me. That was very surprising, as there wasn't anyone there when I first entered the vehicle.

It was my mother! I screamed. I screamed again. I kept screaming in abject terror. Obviously, my driving was a little erratic.

“Are you trying to kill us?” my dead mother asked. “Why don't you pull to the side of the road until you can drive like a normal person. You never drove that way before. Why now? You're upsetting me. I think you must be going crazy.”

My terror turned to anger. This was definitely my mother. I might have guessed that she couldn't stay in the ground like a normal person. Oh my God, I was beginning to sound like her. I pulled over abruptly.

“What are you doing here?”

“Is it so strange? Big deal. A mother wants to spend a little time with her son. Is that any reason to be driving down the highway like a crazy man?”

I tentatively reached out to touch her, to make sure she was solid and not a ghost. It was a tentative exploratory probe with a forefinger on her shoulder.

“Is that the way to touch your mother? Try it again.”

I did, because my tendency was to do what my mother said I should do. This time, there was no resistance, and my finger and arm went through her. I gasped.

“Make up your mind. I can be solid or not. What's the difference? Just tell me what you want, I'll be glad to oblige.”

My heart was pounding.

“Take some deep breaths. You're going to have a heart attack. Is that what you want?”

“WHAT And Who Are You?”

“I guess I'm going to have to explain it to you, Dummy. I'm not human. I never was human. I'm a gremlin. There, now you know.”

“But… but you died. Do gremlins die?”

“Not usually. We usually go somewhere, like a computer, and rejuvenate ourselves.”

“But … but you gave birth to me. Do gremlins give birth?”

“Not unless we want to. I guess I'm going to have to start and give you the whole megillah. Pay attention. I don't want to repeat myself.”

“Okay, tell me. Please,” I urged. The last thing I usually wanted from her was to explain things. However, in this case I listened.

“I fell in love. Okay, maybe it was lust. So, I married your father, Sam. He wanted children, so I conjured one up for him.”

“Wait a minute. I was born, wasn't I?”

“Born, conjured, accidental …What's the difference? I did the same when your sister came.”

I just sat there. I was too stunned to move.

“What's happened? Cat got your tongue?” she asked.

I broke out of my stupor. “I think if I was conjured, I should know. There's a difference between conjured and born. Was I conjured or born?” I yelled.

“Watch your tone of voice when speaking to your mother. Your birth was conjured. You just have to know how to work with genes is all.”

“Oh my God, do I have your genes?” I cried.

“Yes, yes. You're half gremlin.”

“Oh no. That's terrible. What does that mean?”

“Only that you will be bad luck to people you don't like. Maybe. We won't know until you mature.”

“Mature? I'm 50. When do I mature?”

“Give it another 50 years, give or take 25. You're not immortal. I can't make you immortal. But you will be very long lived. You may have to go through a funeral like I did. Then again, you could trip and fall and break your neck and die at 51. Don't ask me. I wouldn't know.”

This discussion went on for another 30 minutes in which I learned a lot about gremlins.

“So where does that leave us now?” I asked after a while.

“I've decided to live with you.”

“Not a chance. Joan and the kids would never understand.”

“I'll make myself invisible to everyone except you.”

“Not a good idea. What other options do you have?”

“Some son you are. Won't even let your mother live with you,” she complained.

“No. It won't work. You can't live with us. Especially not if you're invisible. My family will think I'm nuts. I'll slip. They'll see me talking to you but they won't see you. How will that look?”

“Darling, they already think you're nuts. And do you know why they think you're crazy?”

“No. I can hardly wait for you to tell me.”

“Because you are half a gremlin. Halflings come across that way. Besides, I'll live in your computer.”

“No, no no. Not in my computer. Please not in my computer,” I began to cry.

“It will be fun. You just wait and see. We are going to have a wonderful time. By the way, don't worry about Joan. She's going to be fine.”

Bio: Leonard has Stargardt's disease. Now eighty, he reads through the media of Braille, recordings, and electronic voices. Leonard lives with his wife of forty years and their two dogs.
He is active in the local writing community, which includes facilitating a Writing for Healing and Growth group at the Charlottesville Senior Center, and also facilitates three critique groups for Behind Our Eyes. Leonard published a poetry book through Cedar Creek Publishing, had a column in Dialogue, and has many poems and articles published in anthologies, paper and electronic media. His hobbies include Tai chi and gardening.

A Class Reunion, fiction Honorable Mention
by Greg Pruitt

I paid my driver, stepped out of the car, closed the door, and as he rolled away, I began my walk up the covered concrete walkway to the front doors of the hospice.

My oldest friend was dying. By oldest I mean he had been my friend for the longest period of time, more than 68-years. We had met in first grade, and though jobs, family, and distance had kept us apart for many years, phones and emails had allowed us to maintain contact and remain friends.

Mike's wife had called me about a month ago to tell me that her husband was suffering from a terminal lung condition. He had been a long-time smoker, who had given up the habit over 10 years ago, but the damage caused by cigarettes combined with an adverse reaction to the strong arthritis medicine he was taking had left his lungs unable to support life. He had been moved to hospice two weeks earlier, and this was my second, and likely my final visit.

After walking through the double doors, I entered the building's lobby and crossed to a counter where a receptionist sat behind her desk. She rose from her seat and asked how she could help. I told her whom I was there to see. Taking a few seconds to confirm that my friend was still there and able to receive visitors, she told me his room number. I thanked her and informed her that I knew my way.

The one-story building was L-shaped with showers, kitchen, and a laundry to the left and patient's rooms to the right. I proceeded towards the resident's wing and waited for the audible click signaling me that the door could be opened.

The long hallway had a small interdenominational chapel to the right followed by a series of windows. At the end of the hall, there was a full kitchen adjoining a furnished lounge where families could gather. One end of that room contained a fireplace, while the opposite featured a glass-enclosed aviary, where guests could sit and watch a variety of little birds flittering back and forth from one perch to another. The display included small nests often containing eggs. Many of these feathered captives would spend their entire existence behind glass, never knowing freedom nor true flight.

From the lounge, one could venture through French doors that opened into an outside garden, where patients, accompanied by friends or family, could stroll or be wheeled along flower-lined, brick pathways. Many of the bricks were inscribed in memoriam with the names of former residents. In a strange way, it appeared to be like a cemetery covered with tiny tombstones, making every step seem to be a desecration of hallowed ground.

Once at Mike's room, the fourth on the left, I knocked to announce my presence and walked inside.
The layout of the spacious area was similar to a hotel room. There was a large bathroom, a television, chairs, and of course a bed where my friend lay.

I said “hello,” but Mike at first was unresponsive. I assumed he was sleeping. I took a seat and waited.

Hospice patients receive palliative care, meaning that only such things as food, drink, and those medications needed to keep the patient comfortable were provided. No therapeutic effort to extend life will be offered. I could hear the soft hiss of Mike's oxygen. I concluded that oxygen was not seen as extraordinary.

I sat there reflecting upon all those years. We had shared so much, school, church, scouts, cars and parties. I realized what a large part he had played in my early life. We had grown apart after high school, attending different universities and having jobs a few miles from one another. Then, marriage and children had occupied most of our time and energy, but after retirement, we had begun, along with our wives, to make it a priority to meet for dinner or drinks.

Mike began to stir and upon waking, noticed me sitting there. He cleared his throat and with a weakened voice said, “Hello.”

I returned his welcome and asked how he was feeling, always a ridiculous question under those circumstances. No one receiving care in that place could be feeling well. I suppose I was asking if he were in pain.

We spent most of the next hour recalling our youthful adventures, laughing at our craziness. We hadn't been in any serious trouble as teens, but I did remember a winter night when a little too much beer and excessive speed combined with a patch of black ice caused a terrifying moment that created a lasting memory. Mike's old Chevy had spun in a full circle at least once before coming to rest on the side of the rural road. Our foolish laughter disguised our fear and embarrassment at our close call with death, while Mike drove on at a more cautious pace.

We continued to reminisce, and in time Mike's voice began to fade. I knew he wanted to sleep. I moved next to his bed. Taking his hand and giving it a final farewell squeeze, I wished him well and said that I would see him again, knowing that another visit was unlikely.

He said “goodbye,” murmuring an additional something, as he drifted off, and I left the room.

Standing in the hall, I gazed at the darkening sky through the window. I wondered if I had said all that needed saying. With a sigh, I concluded that another conversation repeating the same sad sentiments would not change what was inevitable. I had learned that such end-of-life talks are emotionally draining and sometimes embarrassing, so after wiping away a tear, I decided to leave.

As I turned, I saw a nurse about to enter the adjacent room. She knocked on the door and announced, “Mr. Tragon, I have your medication.”

Curious, I stood there for a minute waiting for her return. I had recognized that last name, and when she reappeared, I asked if that were Steve Tragon's room.

She paused, perhaps considering that her answer might be in violation of some patient-confidentiality rule, but then told me that yes, it was.

I had taken a guess at the first name. The surname was unusual enough that it was a reasonable assumption. I mentioned to her that we were old friends and would like to say hi, but the truth was that we were far from old friends. I had harbored an animosity toward Steve Tragon for over sixty years. Thoughts of an earlier time returned, prompting an ember of anger, which had smoldered deep in my chest for decades, to glow once more.

I waited for the nurse to resume her duties, and without considering the consequences for what I was about to do, I entered his darkened room and stood for a moment, before determining that the man in the bed was alone and probably sleeping. I found one of the guest chairs, took a seat, and waited.

Steve had attended, along with Mike and me, the same junior high. He had been a bully. Our paths unfortunately had crossed one day in the gym locker room, as I stood in front of a wall-mounted mirror, while I combed my hair. He had begun to mock me by imitating my need to stand so close to my reflection, laughing at me as he pressed his nose to the shiny surface.

In a rage, I grabbed the back of his neck and shoved his face into the glass. When he turned to face me, I hit him just below his left eye. At that point, I should have moved closer in an attempt to finish him off, but I hesitated. I stepped back as he punched me square on my jaw, and before either one of us could throw another blow, we were both seized by the gym teacher and dragged into his office.

The teacher demanded to know the problem. Through my tears, I told him that I was being teased about my eyes, and I wasn't going to take that. The teacher glared at Steve, who stood there staring at the floor, saying nothing. I was ordered to go wash my face and get to my next class. I never learned what action, if any, the man took toward Tragon.

Later, Mike told me that he had heard about the fight. Acting like a best friend, he offered to take care of the problem for me, but I assured him that was unnecessary.

Steve never bothered me again, and that could have been the end of any hard feelings, but the fight had resulted in one of my lower teeth being chipped. The damage was minor. No dental work was necessary, but that small mark left by that missing piece of enamel had been with me ever since. Whenever I ran my tongue across that area, I was reminded of a painful period in my life.

Ultimately, the absurdity of the present situation pulled me from my musings. I was sitting in the room of a dying man, who if waken would probably have no memory of me. Perhaps, under different circumstances, we might even begin to talk. We could invite Mike over and the three of us would discuss the good old days.

The whole situation seemed bazaar. I felt like I had become a character in a horror film, attending some sort of a morbid, final class reunion. So before I did something foolhardy, I rose from the chair and walked to Tragon's bedside.

I stared at his pale, shrunken form, wondering if I should say something, possibly offer forgiveness, or an apology, but the words never came. I was an old man, acting like an angry teenage boy, not a priest granting absolution.

I left his room and made my way to the exit. Once through the doors, I stepped into the cool, early evening and used my phone to arrange a ride.

I smiled wryly at the thought of the night's grim homecoming, which had brought together memories of some of the best and the worst of my youth. I marveled that how, even after all those years, my mind had remained focused on the loss of one trivial, childish scuffle, which was, depending on how you scored it, a fight that I may have won after all. For in a few days, I would be the last one standing.

As I waited for my driver, I realized that no matter how difficult it might be, I should put aside all such negative thinking, but even with that thought fresh in my mind, my tongue began once again its habitual hunt for that small, familiar spot on one of my lower, front teeth.

Bio: Greg Pruitt is a retired teacher living in Fenton, Michigan. He is a graduate of the Michigan School For The Blind and Central Michigan University. He has been legally blind since the age of nine as the result of an undetermined retinal disease. His work can be found in several issues of Magnets and Ladders.

Remember to Tip, fiction
by Nicole Massey

Sarah watched as the sweet old guy looked at the check, pulled out a worn wallet, took several bills out and something else, then got up and left. She went over to get the money for the check and glanced out the window, noticing the man driving away in a beautiful completely restored vintage Cadillac from the 50s.

She counted the bills twice. He left her a tip as large as the meal price. Then she noticed the other slip of paper – a lottery ticket. There was no way he could have meant to leave this much along with the ticket, so she tried to remember a license plate number. She couldn't. And he wasn't a regular customer either. Deciding it was her good luck, she took the money to the register, pocketing the huge tip.

Sarah was tired and in need of a long hot bath when her shift ended four hours later, but curiosity pulled her to the internet. She opened the lottery site and refreshed the page again and again until the numbers started popping up. As she watched the numbers appearing she felt her excitement jumping up too, as each one matched the numbers on her ticket. Three, then four, then five numbers matched. And then she almost fainted as the last one came up too. She checked the numbers four times, but they all matched. If what she was seeing was correct, and if this ticket was for real, she was the winner of a two hundred fifty-six-million-dollar payout.

Sarah couldn't sleep, and on her way in to work the next day she stopped by the local convenience store. The clerk looked at her in shock. “Miss, this is it. You won last night. Congratulations.”

Sarah put it in her pocket, thanked him, then rushed out to her car. She locked all the doors the moment she was inside and called the lottery commission on the phone.

“Lottery commission, how may I help you?” the woman on the phone sounded a bit bored but nice enough.

“Um, yes, this is Sarah Floyd, and I have the winning ticket from last night's payout. But I didn't buy it, someone gave it to me. What do I do?”

The woman on the phone went from bored to laughing. “If it's a legitimate ticket then you get your money. Lottery tickets are bearer documents. It doesn't matter who bought it, it only matters who has it in hand to claim the prize. One moment while I transfer you to our redemption department so they can work with you in getting things set up.”

Sarah was in shock as she finished her drive to work. She kept the winning lottery ticket in her pocket. The day went fast though she felt uneasy. When was the man going to come back? It wasn't hers, it was his. But he didn't return.

After work she went home, packed a bag, and drove to the capitol. The next morning she accepted the check for her first year's payout and drove home. Back home again she made two phone calls – one to a well-respected financial planner (one of her regular customers), and the other to a therapist.

Each morning Sarah ate breakfast at the greasy spoon diner where she worked before the big win, watching for the man. It took three years before he showed up again. He walked in, smiled at her, and said, “Ah, one of my successes. Mind if I join you?”

Sarah nodded. “Of course. I've been looking for you.”

The man smiled, ordered pancakes and coffee with a side of bacon, and relaxed. “I know you have. They always do. You were the fifth one.”

Sarah stared at him. “The fifth one?”

“The fifth winner.”

“I don't understand.”

“Well, that's the thing. After I won a big payout I started leaving these lottery tickets with each tip I paid. I buy a lot of the things, so I both help in keeping the kitty elevated and also provide the chance for someone else to get out of the system just like I did. So, what did you do when you got the money?”

“Hired a financial planner and a therapist.”

“Smart girl.”

“I'd like to buy you breakfast.”

“Okay, under one condition. I've already got a lottery ticket for this one.”

Sarah laughed. “Of course.”

So if you're waiting tables and you get an oversized tip and a lottery ticket, this might be what's going on. And it doesn't matter if it's an old guy in a restored Cadillac or a younger red-haired woman in a luxury coupe, or maybe someone else unlike either of them. Because word can get around for things like this.

Living the Dream, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick

Cozy in Star Wars PJs, my nine-year-old grandson watches an old movie, “back to the Future Part II” on DVD. Filmed in 1989, the characters are transported ahead to 2015. It's now 2021. Meanwhile, my elderly father, born in 1924, snores in his lift recliner. Reduced by dementia, does he dream of his past or travel into the future while he sleeps? I nod off myself; time and space warp.

Frantic, I wake. I'm late for an important dinner, but first I must change into appropriate attire. I push my way into a cavernous warehouse, shopping mall, or maybe it's an historic mansion. Others in my group are exiting, but I swim – upstream against the crowd. Each room I pass is packed with endless racks and closets stuffed with women's clothes. Some dresses I recognize as Mom's but they're all too small for me.

Searching for an outfit, I think casual one moment, dressy the next. I spot a cute dusty rose top, an eyelet blouse cropped to the waist, but it won't work with the blue and red plaid skirt I'm holding in my right hand. Perhaps I could match a red cardigan to the pleated skirt, or find high-waisted black slacks to go with the crop top? I plow through a frustrating assortment of mismatched garments.

In this recurring dream, I can see again, like before Retinitis Pigmentosa reduced my vision to shades of gray. In a deep sleep, I admire the bold patterns and vivid colors of the fabrics I fondle while hunting for something suitable to wear. My eyes are drawn by bright lights promising sale prices. With ease, I navigate endless hallways, stairways, elevators, entrances and exits. I wind my way through a maze of rooms and doors, able to read signs along the way. The marvelous return of vision is a miracle.

Still, I stress. Although I seem to see well enough in my dream to shop and walk around unassisted, I'm also aware, like in reality, that I'm legally blind and don't drive. I hurry after someone I recognize since I need a ride to the restaurant. Droves of people clog the exit. Everyone is leaving. I'm running out of time.

At the same moment, I realize I've lost my cell phone, my back pack, my guide dog, and my elderly cat. How could I have forgotten my animals? I must have left them in the care of someone, yet who? And where? Abandoning the departing crowd, I turn on a dime and retrace my steps. At last, on the third floor, I discover a kennel that my cat has been sharing with a small dog. The dog obviously has helped itself to the cat food. My scrawny pet appears lethargic and dehydrated. I freshen her water bowl and set about hunting for dry food, wet food, any kind of food.

While tending to my emaciated feline, I spot my younger father passing by and call out, “Can I get a ride with you to dinner, Dad?” He smiles yet continues walking. Reluctant, I abandon the cat; at least now she has fresh food and water. I grab my phone and back pack, magically within reach, and chase after my father. Without him, I'm lost. Apparently, my guide dog is still missing, and it no longer matters what I'm wearing.

Outside a mammoth hotel, I now realize, my quest for Dad leads me past an Olympic-size swimming pool. There I join strangers occupying bleachers. I'm mesmerized by the clear water and long for a crisp swim. Naturally, gazing at the inviting liquid, I feel the urge for a restroom. I duck into the Women's locker Room and peer into stall after stall of unflushed toilets. Many have over-flowed a mess onto the floor. When I arrive at a semi-clean stall, I discover it lacks toilet tissue. Forget it. I'll find a clean women's room at the restaurant.

Somehow, I comprehend that I'm dreaming and wake myself from the ordeal. Exhausted, I blink my eyes and see a world of mud. Light punctuates the dark, but fuzzy shadows lack form. Although I'm awake in my own home, I can't see bold patterns and vivid colors. I can't match my clothes. I can't see Dad's smile, my grandson's pajamas, my cat (now deceased), or my loving guide dog. How unfair! It's like I see and do more in my dreams than during my waking hours. Which is it? Am I living the dream, or dreaming my life away?

Bio: Marcia Wick enjoys retirement along with grandchildren, gray hair, and time to write. Her essays have appeared in Magnets and Ladders,, and Vision through Words. She reflects on parenting, caregiving, living with a disability, and adventures with her guide dog. Marcia's career in communications, desktop publishing, and public education spanned 40 years. She now partners with her sister as The Write Sisters. She is legally blind due to Retinitis Pigmentosa. Marcia also volunteers with Guide Dogs for the blind, advocates for public transit, and enjoys a variety of sports with her husband as her guide. Contact her at

Pantry, fiction Honorable Mention
by Susan Muhlenbeck

Halloween started out uneventfully enough. Charlotte checked her braille watch when she got up and saw that it was exactly 8:00 a.m. She grabbed her white cane and walked up the two flights from her condo on the 8th floor to her friend Cory's condo on the 10th floor. As she walked down the hall to his place, she thought longingly of her late cat Tamica, who had died of liver cancer earlier that year. She had gotten her on Halloween 12 years before. ”She's a black cat, and I got her on Halloween night,” she told everybody with a laugh. So caught up was she in her revery that she didn't notice that she had walked past Cory's door. She started to turn around but then remembered that his condo had another door, the door to the pantry, a little farther down the hall. I'll just use that one, she thought.

She knocked on the pantry door and waited. She expected Cory's roommate Frank to answer the door. Cory was in a wheelchair due to muscle spasticity and had trouble pulling the door open. Therefore, she was shocked when the door flew open and Cory shouted, “Hey, Charlotte, come on in!”

Charlotte was too stunned to speak, or even move. Cory's voice was coming from several feet higher up than usual. “Cory,” she squeaked. “What?”

“What am I doing standing?” he laughed, “and walking? Well, it's a medical miracle. I was just getting ready to take a little walk. Come in while I finish getting ready.”

She walked on rubbery legs into his condo. The first thing she noticed as Cory put his coat and shoes on was the vaguely unpleasant smell. His condo usually smelled of fabric softener and fruit, but this new smell reminded her of rotten eggs. “What is that awful smell?” she asked, holding her nose.

“What smell? I don't smell anything. Let's go,” he said, opening the pantry door and running out.

“So, where's Frank?” Charlotte asked as they took the elevator down to the lobby.

“I sent him away,” Cory said dismissively. “I don't need his help any more, now that I'm walking and stuff.”

They stepped outside into the cool, crisp air. “So, what's going on?” she demanded. “How did you start walking?”

“I told you, it was a medical miracle,” he said mysteriously. “I can't tell you all the details, but I can do the same thing for you. I'll show you when we get back.”

“What are you saying?” she asked shrilly.

“Let's just walk for a while,” he said. She grabbed his arm, almost running to keep up with him. They walked along Monument Avenue, then turned onto Staples Mill Road. “Everybody has their house decorated for Halloween,” Cory mused. “Move, cat!” he shouted.

“Meeeeow,” a cat said plaintively. “A black cat just crossed our path,” he grumbled. “I said move, cat. Don't you know black cats shouldn't be out on Halloween?”

“I got my black cat on Halloween night 12 years ago,” Charlotte said mournfully. “I still miss her after all this time.”

“Oh, hush,” Cory snapped, stamping his foot in annoyance. “Forget about your dead cat and come on. I want to walk a little farther.”

Charlotte was hurt. She had never heard her friend talk to her in such a rude manner. He was usually so pleasant and even-tempered. “I want to go home,” she said softly. “I'm getting tired.”

“Fine, we'll go,” he sighed. “We're almost at the hospital. We'll head back from there. If you weren't with me, I would run home. In fact, I would run all the way downtown, then I would run all the way home. I'm planning to run in the Marathon next year. What do you think about that?”

“I would really like to know how this came about,” Charlotte said truthfully. “You never told me this would happen to you.”

“That's because I didn't know,” he said impatiently. “I was just as surprised as you were when I realized I could stand and walk and run. And wait till you find out what I can do for you!”

They walked home quickly. “Let's take the stairs up to my place,” Cory said, pushing open the door to the stairwell.

“I can't walk up 10 flights,” Charlotte protested as Cory started running up the steps at full speed.

“Of course, you can,” he shouted. “Hurry up! You're too slow!”

Charlotte somehow managed to climb up to the 10th floor. She had to stop and rest several times. By the time she reached the 10th floor, her legs were quite sore, she was out of breath, and her heart was pounding.

Cory didn't even seem winded. “You're going to have to practice climbing stairs,” he said. “That should have been easy.”

He swung the pantry door open, and they stepped inside. The smell accosted her immediately. She felt her throat burning, her eyes watering, and her nose running. She put a hand over her mouth and took shallow breaths.

“This is what we're going to do,” Cory said over the ringing in her ears. “You are going to go to your place and bring back an orange. Then I am going to use a syringe to inject this magic elixir into the orange, and you're going to eat it.”

“Then what?” she whispered. It hurt to talk. She had to get out of there.

Cory laughed. “Then you can go star gazing, do some portrait painting, play tennis, spy on your neighbors with binoculars. Hell, you can even fly a plane.”

Charlotte didn't hear the rest. She opened the pantry door and staggered out into the hall. She sat on the floor and put her head between her knees, hoping she wouldn't pass out. Her head was throbbing, her throat felt raw, and she was nauseous. What was going on with Cory? She asked herself. She wondered if she were dreaming. She waited until she could breathe normally then got unsteadily to her feet. She walked on shaky legs to her condo and sat down heavily on the couch.

Her mind spun. What should she do? Did Cory have the magic elixir that could change her life? It had changed his life in a major way, but it wasn't all good. By some miracle, he was able to walk, but his personality had taken a turn for the worse. She didn't like the new Cory at all. The new Cory was mean-spirited, conceited, and self-centered. She missed her old friend, and she didn't want her personality to change in a bad way either. “I know what I'll do,” she said out loud. She rummaged through a junk drawer and fished out a rubber band, which she slipped onto her wrist. If his miracle cure worked, she would pull the rubber band whenever she felt her character change in a negative way. She was feeling very hot. She peeled off her yoga pants and sweater and slipped on a cotton shift. She drank a tall glass of cold water, then popped a big cough drop into her mouth to get rid of that awful burning sensation in her throat. She wondered again what was in the magic drug that suddenly made Cory able to walk. She wondered where he had acquired such a wonder drug and who had manufactured it. She also wondered why he was being so secretive about the whole thing. And finally, she wondered about the awful smell in his condo. She thought suddenly that it could have been sulfur. The thought of brimstone made her shudder. Why didn't it bother him, and how would it affect her in the long run? Pondering all these thoughts, she pulled out the biggest orange in the refrigerator and again climbed up the stairs to Cory's condo.

She was still several feet from the pantry door when she heard something scratching the carpet in front of her. Then she heard the unmistakable sound of a cat hissing loudly. Then she heard it growl deep in its throat. That was one angry cat, she thought absurdly. Who had let their cat out? She took one more step when the cat yowled, then sank its teeth into her leg. She let out a cry of pain and jumped back. The cat hissed again. She tried to walk around the cat to get to the door, but it leapt in front of her and dug its claws into her leg. “Ouch!” she cried, clapping a hand over the injured leg. Her hand came away sticky with blood and skin. The cat crouched in front of the pantry door and hissed again. “Okay,” she whispered, “I understand. You don't want me to go through that door.”

She turned around and walked slowly to Cory's front door. She hesitated for a minute before knocking. “Meow,” the cat said forlornly from behind her. The door opened slowly.

“Hey, charlotte.” It was Cory's roommate Frank.

“Frank?” she asked uncertainly. “You're back?”

“Back?” he asked, confused. “What do you mean? I've been here all morning.”

She stepped inside. The place smelled like coffee.

“Morning,” Cory said from his usual spot at the dining room table. “Is that orange for me?”

“Yeah,” she said, setting it on the table. “You're in your wheelchair,” she stated, putting her hand on its back.

“Of course,” Cory laughed. “Where else would I be? Get yourself a cup of coffee.”

“What just happened?” she asked. Her voice sounded strange even to her own ears.

“What do you mean?” he asked, slurping coffee. “You came up for coffee.”

“You know,” Charlotte said impatiently. “The magic elixir, you were walking, we took a walk around the neighborhood. You were supposed to give me the magic drug.”

There was a long silence. “What are you on?” Frank asked.

“Nothing!” Charlotte shouted. She recounted that morning's events, starting from the time she walked into the pantry door.

“You must have been dreaming,” Cory finally said.

“Or hallucinating,” Frank offered.

Charlotte lifted her shift enough to reveal the cat's work. “Does that look like a dream to you?” she demanded.

Both men gasped. “Ooohh, that looks bad,” Cory said, putting out a tentative hand and touching her leg. Charlotte screamed in pain.

“That needs medical attention,” Frank added. “That cat could have rabies. You need to start taking a course of antibiotics and probably get a Tetanus shot.”

“I think that needs stitches,” Cory said sympathetically. “I hate to tell you this, but your leg may have permanent scarring. It looks like the cat pulled about a yard of skin off.”

“I'll go look for the cat,” Frank said. “Meanwhile, you go clean up that scratch before we go to the hospital.”

“I don't understand,” Charlotte said lamely. She flipped open her watch and checked the time. With a shudder she realized that it was just about 3 minutes past 8:00. “That can't be right,” she muttered. “We were walking for at least an hour.”

“Don't think about that right now,” Cory said as Frank left. “Just get yourself cleaned up, then come and have a cup of coffee.”

Dutifully Charlotte went into the bathroom and deftly washed out the wound with soap and warm water. She felt tears stinging her eyes as she washed her leg. She cleaned her leg the best she could, then poured a cup of coffee.

“Strange things happen on Halloween,” Cory mused as she sipped the coffee slowly.

Frank walked back in. “There is no sign of a cat,” he announced.

“Am I going crazy?” Charlotte asked desperately.

“I don't know, maybe,” Cory said. “Never mind that. “Get ready to go to the emergency room and have your leg taken care of.”

“I don't think that's necessary,” Charlotte protested.

“Yes, it is,” Cory and Frank said emphatically. “You can come with me willingly, or I'll call an ambulance and have them take you, but you are going, and that is final,” Frank ordered. “That cat is nothing to mess around with.”

“Fine,” Charlotte sighed. “Let's go.”

What was it about going through that pantry door that caused this break from reality? Charlotte wondered as she and Frank walked out. And why did that cat care what happened to her? Maybe it was her own cat Tamica acting as her guardian angel, warning her of danger. Charlotte's leg throbbed as she thought about what she would tell the doctor.

Bio: Susan Muhlenbeck was born in Seoul, Korea and spent her first five years there. She lost her sight at the age of two. She was raised in the Midwest and moved to Virginia as a teenager. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and master's degree in rehabilitation counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University. She has worked as a church organist, peer counselor, transcriptionist, phone psychic, appointment setter, braille proofreader, dish washer, dispatcher, and debt collector. Her interests include reading, swimming, bargain shopping, and cats. Her books are available on amazon.

Part III. People and Places

Tall and Black: A Poem of Experience, poetry First Place
by Winslow Parker

He was tall and black
And I was on his street.
He was tall and black and strong
And I was on his street; in his neighborhood.
He was tall and black and strong and young and I was white,
And I was on his street, in his neighborhood, and on his turf.

“Having a problem,” he asked.
A question which I interpreted as, “I am your problem;”
White fear of black in 1971.

Hood up,
Leaning into the engine compartment,
My vast ignorance of all things mechanical plain,
His question unnecessary; the answer far too obvious.

“Try starting her,” he said.

I did as he commanded.

He was tall and black and strong and young and knew what I did not.

“Be right back. Parts store is just across the river in Manhattan.”
He crossed the street, mounted the steps to the Elevated
And was, indeed, “right back.”

I did not see what he did,
But after a moment of magic, he said,
“Try to start her now.”

She sparked to life,
All eight cylinders purring in harmony.

I thanked him and offered him money for his time and expertise and parts.
He declined, turned away, disappearing into the Bronx sidewalk crowd.

He was tall and black and strong and young and kind.
I was on his street,
In his neighborhood,
On his turf
And he made me his neighbor.

Bio: Winslow is retired and lives with his wife of 50 years in Portland Oregon. He has, during his work years, been a hospital chaplain, school teacher (which taught him more than he taught), associate pastor, mental-health tech, social worker and finally an adaptive technology instructor at the Oregon Commission for the Blind. He flunked Freshman comp the first time around and did not begin to write seriously until 2007. Since then, he has self-published several books, including Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, a book of short stories and Hitler's Hell, a book of iconoclastic Christian theology. After joining Behind Our Eyes, he wrote his first poem, “Tears,” at the suggestion of another member. Always delighting in word manipulation, he finds Behind Our Eyes a receptive and welcoming environment in which to sharpen his quill.

Chronicles of Spain, 1966: In A Grassy Field, memoir nonfiction First Place
by Kate Chamberlin

The clouds scudded across the warm night sky, obliterating the starlight and silver quarter moon. My girlfriend and I had spent a fun-filled afternoon and evening visiting the families of several Spanish boys that had picked us up in the college city of Valladolid, Spain.

Before doing my practice teaching my senior year in college, I lived in Spain from mid-May to mid-December, 1966. Armed with a minor in Spanish, I wanted to immerse myself in as much of the Spanish culture, people, and language as I could. Phyllis, who had a major in Spanish, and I attended the Catholic Mass in Spanish and Latin every Sunday, accepted each invitation to tour the big city museums, take classes at the university, witness a bull fight, and experience las fiestas in small villages.

When several boys we'd seen on campus invited us to go with them to their pueblo's fiesta honoring the town's saint, we accepted. The afternoon and evening were lively with going from one home to another, each packed more fully with that family's extended relatives. Everyone wanted to see las Americanas morena and rubia. Phyllis was a brunette and I was blonde.

Each family produced the best they could afford of fried pig ears, spicy sausages, breads, and of course, wines of varying quality.

Half-way back to the university in the middle of the night, all the wine we'd consumed, needed to be released. We saw no lights of a friendly inn, passed through no towns, and no homes were near-by. We were in the middle of no-where. The boys knew it wouldn't be a problem for them, but, what to do with las gringas?

Eventually, they stopped the car on the side of the road. They were going to unbutton and go on the grass next to the car; however, Phyllis and I were a bit more modest and chose to cross the road and climb over the fence into a grassy field. We flipped up our skirts, slid down our panties, and squatted with the anticipation of relief.

It was then that I heard heavy breathing and, possibly, a snort behind us. I thought it was a crude joke for the boys to sneak up behind us like that, but, when I looked over my shoulder, my face blanched and I felt a horror I'd never felt before.

As the clouds briefly cleared from the face of the moon, I saw I was staring into the dark eyes of a very large, smelly bull, not five feet away. He snorted again and took a step toward us.

My urinating stopped on a drop and I took off for the fence with Phyllis right behind me. The boys couldn't stop laughing, as they knew the bull lived in that field.

Fortunately for us, el toro was the Ferdinand type of bull, who was more curious than angry.

While this anecdote is funny now, my Mother would have been mortified to know I'd even thought about peeing in a field, instead of a proper bathroom! So, I didn't tell her.

Bio: Kathryn G. (Kate) Chamberlin, B.S., M.A, and her husband have lived atop their drumlin in Walworth, NY, since April, 1972, raised three children plus two grandchildren, and participated in a variety of community organizations. When she became totally blind in '85, the screen reader on her computer enabled her to become the author of three children's books: The Night Search, Charles and David, Green Trillium; and maintain a blog at She and her husband are now empty nest great-grandparents and enjoy having lunch out, country walks during good weather, and mall cruising or walking on their side-by-side treadmills during inclement weather.

Waugoshance Lighthouse, poetry
by Carol Farnsworth

On a flat slate grey rock,
sixteen miles off land,
stands a crumbling relic.
Her blue / white prism light,
has protected ships from the shoals.
Built strong,
with irons rods encased in bricks,
under sheeting of grey steel,
she has withstood fall gales for over 170 years.

The lightkeeper's home and boat launch,
have long succumbed to rising waters.
But the birdcage topped light
is defiant in the storms.
The grey /blue waters cover a graveyard
of 17 ships and their crews. The smoke of Chicago burning,
obscured the light that could have saved them.

In WWII, she was targeted for bomber practice,
causing her iron skirting to slip into the watery grave.
Now she leans like an old woman looking over the lake.
Knowing the next icy wave could topple her
she will slip off her perch to disappear for good.

Better a quick death then to linger.
May no man see her fall.

Bio: Carol has worn many hats in her life: musician, speech therapist, artist and poet. In addition to publication in Magnets and Ladders, she has been published in The Avocet, Plum Tree Tavern, Spirit Fire Review and The Handy Uncapped Pen. Born with glaucoma, Carol has experienced gradual vision loss all her life. Her other passions are gardening, cooking and tandem biking. While riding as a stoker, she can discover nature through hearing, sent and touch. She and her tandem partner John live in a small town in western lower Michigan.

Secrets Under Waters, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

Great Superior,
mysteries lie on
your mansion floor,
kept still,

So many secrets,
ships and sailors lost
to myriad storms,
violent and desperation of life,

Murmurs of power and tragedy
flow and merge in your waters,
terrible, turbulent.

Majesty is yours in
legend, sweeping gales and ripples.
Will you share all you hold
with the humans who
are in awe and fear of you?

Bio: Valerie Moreno has been writing fiction and poems since age 12. Her inspiration is music, life experience and prayer. Her work has appeared in anthologies, magazines and fan fiction. She is totally blind.

Landmark, poetry
by Sandra Streeter

13 tiny, waxen bars of flame
Add their festive touch to Ontario kitchen,
Foreshadow gifts to come, this day……
Drumsticks… lessons… practice pad…
Everything toward learning destiny
Sweet as the cake set before me.

All other passions would recede,
As I took up my trade,
(Or, rather, just began to fathom it).
Years ahead, to wear the names
“Lyric writer,” “cyclist,”
“Husband”, “Father”:
Excellence in all, my aim.

No longer living in your sphere,
Now, from my new expanse,
I turn my gaze below, with hopefulness and joy
Toward that day when 13 candles burn
Illumining the path
For someone else's drummer child.

Note: About Neil Peart, late drummer/lyricist of the band Rush-1952-2020

Bio: Sandra Streeter, a blind graduate of the youth ministry program at Gordon College, and of Western Michigan University's Blind Rehabilitation program, has had a lifelong passion for excellent communication of all kinds. Previously, she has dipped her toe in the “publication pool” through successful submissions to her high school literary magazine, Dialogue, Our Special and Magnets and Ladders. A self-described “rabid fan of the progressive-rock band Rush,” she is currently embarking on the adventure of writing a chapbook about, and dedicated to, its late drummer/lyricist, Neil Peart.

The Miracle of Narration, Pantoum, poetry
by Mary-Jo Lord

For Mitzi Friedlander

Words can’t say thank you enough.
Your voice has brought countless books to life.
History, romance, youth and mystery,
characters and plots filled our homes.

Your voice has brought countless books to life.
On record, cassette, cartridge and digital download,
characters and plots filled our homes.
We never heard you turn a page.

On record, cassette, cartridge and digital download,
you took us to places and times. We felt like we were there.
We never heard you turn a page.
For us, narrators are the stars.

You took us to places and times. We felt like we were there.
History, romance, youth and mystery.
For us, narrators are the stars.
Words can’t say thank you enough.

Note: “The Miracle of Narration” was written in honor of Mitzi Friedlander for her retirement from the American Printing House for the Blind in 2015. Mitzi began working for APH as a talking book narrator in 1960 and had recorded over 2,000 books. Mitzi passed away on August 11, 2021. She was ninety-one.

Bio: Mary-Jo Lord writes poetry, fiction, and memoirs. A selection of her work is published in Almost Touching, published by Plain View Press. Her work can also be found in the anthologies Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, and in past issues of Magnets and Ladders. She was also published in Dialogue, and on the blog, “Walking by Inner Vision,” Mary-Jo is the current Coordinating Editor of Magnets and Ladders. She has a master's degree in counseling from Oakland University, and works at Oakland Community College. Mary-Jo lives with her family in Rochester, Michigan. She has been blind since birth.

Badlands, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

Water gouged this land
from surrounding grassy plains
leaving the rocks bare.

The sun descends beyond the pinnacle
shining beneath the lowering clouds
coloring the rocks in yellow white and red,
colors that shine beneath a darkening sky.

We came far to see these luminous shades,
then traveled through this land of desolation.
We saw the beasts who make this place theirs
big horn sheep, snakes, and prairie dogs.

A trail took us up a path of stairs
to an oasis perched midway up a cliff
a patch of green among the yellow hoodoos
a verdant plot within this rocky realm.

And remembering we watch the changing colors
from yellow shades to deeper hues of red,
as the day ends giving way to oncoming night.
In dying light, this color show draws to a close.

Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind and had several eye operations to gain partial sight. He has recently retired from Federal service after 37 years. He plans to do a lot of traveling around the USA with his wife. Shawn lives in Olney, MD with his wife, son, and a couple of dogs. He also has a daughter who lives in Baltimore.

Bayou Night, poetry
by Winslow Parker

Bullfrogs sing, wooing a mate;
An Alligator grunts and roars, challenging.
A panther screams; shrill as a woman's desperate cry.
Mosquitoes whine, seeking incubation blood.

A distant train moans across night's horizon,
Rending the fountain of her tears,
The echo of her heart.
That train brings her beloved,
Sacrificed to the gods of war.

Inspired by “Bullfrog Moon” by Joe Weed and Neal Hellman
And “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” by Pete Seeger

Hurricane Matthew and Me, poetry
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

In Sheridan, Wyoming, a Florida hurricane
was far from most people's minds
on the morning of Thursday, October 6th, 2016.
I texted my brother in Jupiter,
got no response, not unusual.

In the afternoon, he called,
said they were putting up special shutters,
preparing for shortages of power and food.

In the evening, while munching a sandwich,
I found a Florida radio station online,
pictured my relatives in their shuttered home amid wind and rain.

Before going to bed, I tuned in the same station.
Phone and power lines were down, shelters open.

Friday morning, I tuned in the station a third time.
The storm had passed, left damage in its wake.
I sent a text to my brother
before dashing off to my water exercise class,
found a response on my return.
They hadn't even lost power.

Bio: Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Besides Magnets and Ladders, her work has appeared in The Writer's Grapevine, The Weekly Avocet, and other publications. She is visually impaired and lives in Sheridan, Wyoming. Please visit her website at:

Point of Light, poetry
by Susan Muhlenbeck

The little girl sat among the rubble in her rice sack dress,
Absently rubbing together two broken tiles,
As the sun cast long shadows on her dark hair.

Nearby a street vendor pushed his cart along the cobblestones,
Hoping to sell all the small fruits, chestnuts on strings, rice cakes, and dry fish before the day was out.

An old beggar limped by on his bamboo cane,
Bowing politely as the vendor threw him two rice cakes.

Three small boys splashed happily in a tiny stream,
Mindless of the frigid water and slimy muck.

A young woman strode purposefully out of her thatched hut,
Hoe and spade in hand, to tend to her drought-ridden garden.

A bony black cat picked laboriously through a garbage heap,
Gingerly nosing a piece of decaying fish,
Trying to determine whether it was good to eat.

Amidst it all, Yin and Yang loomed ominously,
Promising good health, plentiful harvest, and prosperity to all.

My Mom In The Foreign Legion, memoir
One in a series of vignettes about my mom
by Kate Chamberlin

During the early days of living in Riverwoods, Deerfield, Illinois, Ed and Barb Zimmer, Doug and Connie Quirk, and my parents, Paul and Grace Holmberg hit it off and became fast friends. Their two daughters and I also became best buds.

One of the things our parents liked to do was go out to eat once a month. They called themselves “The Foreign Legion”. One couple would be the host and plan a dinner with a theme in mind, usually it would be a nationality. The cost would be split among the couples.

For example, one time they went to a Japanese restaurant in the Greater Chicago area. It was the host couple's responsibility to make reservations at the restaurant, order the meal from first bite to last tidbit of dessert. Request the various wines and other beverages to sip on during the dinner and dessert, and otherwise come up with an authentic as possible Japanese experience. The ambiance in the restaurant included the low tables with cushions to sit on, waitresses in kimonos and fancy obis, low lights and savory food emanations. The host couple might embellish the evening by providing ethnic outfits, music, adornments, or other touches for the full treatment.

They ate their way around the world without even leaving the greater Chicago area.

If an extra couple or two were joining the Foreign Legion on a temporary adventure and needed a babysitter, my friends and I could get the job. Since, one friend didn't like to babysit and the other one preferred to sit for one neighbor, I usually had the opportunity to make some money…$.50 an hour, going up to $1.00 after midnight.

In due time, a new dentist came to town with his wife and three daughters. I'm a bit fuzzy about who or how they all met, but, Dr. Iggelson (I'm not sure how to accurately spell his name, so that is how it sounded.) and his wife were invited to join the Foreign Legion. I was the designated babysitter, which was tricky. The family was from Iceland. While the parents and the 10-year-old spoke English, the two younger girls only spoke Icelandic. An interesting predicament I didn't know about before I arrived at their home

Eventually, the Icelandic couple took a turn to host an ethnic night. Unfortunately, just prior to that, my family moved to Marlboro, Pennsylvania. The Icelandic family prepared an authentic Icelandic feast for the remaining Foreign Legionnaires. I don't know all the details, however, a box arrived at our new home with a note.

They'd missed my parents and wanted them to know that they thought of them by sharing the enclosed present.

As Mom opened the box flaps a rather ripe odor emanated into our noses. The smell became stronger and stronger as she peeled away the newspaper, then, plastic wrap closer to the 'thing'.

Apparently, one of the delicacies the Foreign Legion enjoyed was a whole roast goat, something like we'd have a pig roast. They had mailed the skull to Mom and Dad!

Mom nailed the gruesome, reeking item to a fence post that separated our way back yard from the farmer's field, far away from our house. The birds soon picked it clean. Mom said it gave the 'back 40' a touch of character.

After a few years, Dad was transferred to Newburgh, New York and we went with him. As far as I know, the skull was still nailed to the fence post adding character to the neighborhood.

Sonnetts for My Parents, poetry
by Feather Chelle

My Rock (for My Father)

Father is my ever eternal rock,
Unwavering support that makes me strong,
A raw and precious stone at which we gawk,
An anchor keeping me where I belong.

Foundation upon which my life is built,
Shelter and safety from the wind and rain,
Holding me up above the mud and silt,
Steadfast stability without refrain.

Yet, though a rock may well erode in time,
With raging torrents buffeting each side,
My father’s love, so solid and sublime
Is never-changing, no matter the tide.

My rock shall stand the test of the ages,
My fears, his great endurance assuages.


The Harbor (for My Mother)

A harbor, in her tender arms, I find,
Protection from the crashing surf and storm,
A blissful sanctuary, redefined,
My heart, my soul, my body, doth she warm.

The rhythm that beats lively in her chest,
A cadence of the gently lapping waves,
That rock me softly, lulling me to rest
Though, ’round us, the tumultuous weather raves.

Yet, even sheltered inlets may be breached
By hurricane, tsunami or typhoon,
The refuge of a mother’s never reached
By any forces underneath the moon.

Eternally, this harbor will endure,
Beyond the hands of time, so safe and pure.

“My Rock” will be featured in a soon to be published book by Feather Chelle, ode to Dad.
“The Harbor” is featured in Ode to Mom by Feather Chelle. It is available from Amazon at:

Bio: Feather Chelle is a single mother of five, living in Texas, along with two grandpuppies and two grandpiggies (guinea pigs). She is totally blind due to a battle with cancer. She enjoys homeschooling with her family. She has been in love with the ocean since she was five years old and loves to learn more about it every day. Feather has been writing since she was in the first grade, although her first book was not published until the very end of 2020.

The Dry Landscape Garden, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

“The Dry Landscape Garden (karesansui)”


Silent morning darkness
Full pink moon lingers
behind night-time trees in silhouette.
sound of current flowing downstream
beyond the ridge.
Sunrise filters through slowly
Red-tailed hawk perches on invisible
branch of towering sapphire pine
chants an even rhythm
a high-pitched piccolo

Rising sun warms Japanese rock garden

I begin the morning ritual
My outstretched hand passes over
pale worn stones. I sift and shift
pebbles tumbled through ages.

I clasp stones in my hand
consider the life-force inside each one.

A carefully compressed, arranged peaceful garden
mossy patches, blue Japanese grass
tiny pink pearl buds on slender branches on weeping Tamukeyama tree
Yellow grass sprouts through stony floor

My husband is an aged monk as
he bends over –
scraping the waves with his bamboo rake
He gathers twigs in the afternoon sunshine.

In Zen meditation garden, his deep
blue shadow glides over hand-cut barn-stone wall
reclines on thick spring grass

Brightness floods the steps to the porch
Our hojo,
residence of the chief monk
our private monastery

Tonight, we speak quietly about
verdant moss and pruning
and how the raking of stones resembles waves of the Caribbean Sea.

“The Dry Landscape Garden” was previously published in Mingled Voices5 Anthology, Proverse Hong Kong, and earned a Prize for a Single Poem, 2020. It was also Given “Special Mention” by Proverse for a “body of work.”

Bio: Lynda McKinney Lambert writes poems that appear internationally in journals and anthologies. She and her husband Bob celebrated their 60th anniversary on April 14, 2021. Lynda earned a BFA and MFA in Painting. She also received an MA in English degree with her focus on poetry and modern literature. She is retired from her position as professor of fine art and humanities at Geneva College, Beaver Falls, PA. In 2007, She taught courses on campus and during the summers she taught a month-long course in Austria. She took students on travel-study trips in Europe, the US, and Puerto Rico regularly during her teaching years. Lynda is blind – since 2007 – from Ischemic Optic Neuropathy.

Part IV. Happy Birthday Magnets and Ladders

Compiled by Mary-Jo Lord

Magnets and Ladders has ten candles on its birthday cake. In the Spring/Summer edition, Marilyn Brandt Smith lit the first five candles. In this edition we continue our celebration by showcasing five selections, all contest winners, representing 2016 through 2020.

Former Behind Our Eyes president, Abbie Johnson Taylor recently asked how the name Magnets and Ladders originated. Here is the story.

Once we made the decision to have an online magazine, we needed a name. Two names were suggested by Lisa Bush, “magnet” because the magazine could be a magnet to draw in readers, and “ladder” because writers with disabilities are climbing up the ladder of successful writing. The group decided to put the two names together and the name became Magnets and Ladders.

For ten years, we have enjoyed publishing both new and experienced writers and reaching a diverse audience. Let's keep the candles burning for another ten years.

My Favorite Mentor, nonfiction Second Place, 2016
Workshop Wisdom from Margo LaGattuta
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

She’s just home from teaching her college class. Chinese young people are learning to make creative writing part of their linguistic switch to self-expression in English. Margo’s dreaming of her upcoming weekend “up north,” as Michiganders say, hours up the road from Detroit, up close and personal with the woods and the water.

She kicks back, feet up, two cat companions scramble for space—her lap, her shoulder, her keyboard, papers on the desk, and of course, on the phone she’s using to call the conference line. Every other week she met with nine disabled people from the Behind Our Eyes writers with disabilities group in 2008.

We first met Margo through Mary-Jo Lord, who’d attended her workshops and been published in one of her anthologies. Mary-Jo knew we needed a speaker and evaluator for poetry, essays, and memoirs submitted to be part of our group’s first literary anthology published in 2007.

In our Summer workshop, Margo’s prompts and critiques led us away from humdrum patterns and presentations toward imaginative, “outside the box” possibilities:

  1. The Fine Art of…your choice.
  2. Personification of a clothing tag; cooking instructions on a box or bag; an unrelated list of nouns I.E., city, continent, song, food, clothing, pet, etc.

We quizzed her on some of the puzzles we as writers face:

“How can I turn a plot in a book I love into a narrative poem without getting sued for plagiarism?”
“How many flashbacks can I use in a memoir without confusing the reader?”
“For quotes within quotes, should I use apostrophes? Can I put quotes around talking/thinking to myself?”
“In memoir, how can I protect the good guys associated with the bad guys in my story?”

Most of her answers began with, “It depends,” followed by scenarios from her experience or imagination. She was helpful without being dictatorial.

Some of us took notes with Braille devices, some in large print writing, but many replayed the recorded call, soaking up more information from the second hearing. Most of us had at least two pieces published which originated from that conference workshop by phone.

I listened to those calls again recently to choose a few nuggets for presentation in our group’s tenth anniversary celebration of writing together. I laughed and teared-up time and time again. The cats disconnected her phone and she had to call back. Her basement flooded, she was waiting for the plumbers, and had to reschedule for the next week.

Margo told us she always introduced herself as a writer, although her awards—and often her major focus—came from poetry. She said claiming to be a poet sometimes put people off. She couldn’t interact as easily, but as a writer, somehow she was seen as quite normal. We kept in touch from time to time after the workshop. She visited our Sunday night group conference when we were planning our online magazine, Magnets and Ladders. We tried not to miss her regular column in a local newspaper, “A Word in Edgewise.”

In august of 2011, Mary-Jo brought me the terrible news. “We’ve lost Margo. I didn’t get to see her before she died.” Most of us didn’t know there was anything wrong. Two months before, I’d invited her to speak to another group of writers who are blind. How much of her time would I have tried to steal had I known?

The book will never be closed on her influence on my writing. I listen to the recordings of those six workshop sessions and want to say, “But Margo, now I have a new issue! Come back and walk me through your take on it.” I think sometimes she does.

She can’t know I published a book in 2012, and that Mary-Jo now edits the online magazine I was editing when I knew Margo. I know she’s smiling. Here’s the take-home message. If you have a mentor whose ideas work for you—she gets what you’re trying to do, you share easily together—don’t take that for granted. Be a sponge. Put yourself in her audience every chance you get. Margo was only sixty-nine. I was older, but she’d done so much more with her talent. I wanted to be her shadow. I still try to echo her ideas when I write and when I help others write.

Margo introduced us to the dream circle. Here’s how it works. Tell your writing or critique group to have a dream, or bring a dream, old or new, to the next meeting. She says it’s a self-fulfilling wish if you’re looking for new material. Next, have the participants tell their dreams one at a time. Go around the room, not analyzing. Use the key phrase, “If this were my dream, here’s what it would mean for me.” When you finish, you’ll come up with lots of new ideas for yourself, and you’ll grab new trails to follow from the dreams of others. We let her guide us through that process that Summer, and had lots of fun.

Margo had some helpful suggestions for critique groups. When you hear your work critiqued and you don’t believe the reviewer was on target, instead of being defensive, let it lie for a while. When you’ve almost forgotten your anger or disagreement, look at the review again with a new perspective. You may still feel like throwing it in the trash, but every now and then with more open eyes you’ll think, “Oh dear! She was right. It would be stronger if I would…. Yes, that last paragraph is not necessary. It’s really too long. The reader can’t stay focused. Take it out.” You don’t have to accept everything that’s offered at a workshop, you only have to hear it then. You may do well to process it later. Some ideas seem outside your understanding or acceptance because of the way they’re presented. If your reviewers don’t get what you’re about, what you’re trying to do; if they’re not on the same page with you, they can’t help you with their suggestions. Look for someone who wants your way to work, and is not just there to prove how many negatives can be lined up.

Margo believed in the power of creativity, and in its gradual disappearance because of the way media and classroom strategies fly through the highlights without looking between the lines for subtle nuances and veiled nuggets.

When I was putting my book, Chasing the Green Sun, together in 2012, I faced lots of choices about how to intermingle my fiction, poetry, and memoir pieces, “What would Margo do?” I dreamed some solutions one night, and guess who was helping me? I’d like to take that dream to one of her dream circles. Better yet, I wish it could come true.

Margo was a faculty member at the University of Michigan, Oakland Community College, and other schools. During her career she won the Midwest Poetry award and in 2005, the Mark Twain award. She wrote various newspaper columns, hosted a radio show on writing, and conducted countless workshops and seminars. I never had access to her four books and the many anthologies she edited featuring the work of her students and other fellow writers. The Behind Our Eyes group of writers with disabilities continues to honor her contributions as an important part of our successful journey.

“My Favorite Mentor” was previously published in the Fall/Winter 2016-2017 edition of Magnets and Ladders.

Bio: Marilyn Brandt Smith worked as a teacher, psychologist, and rehabilitation professional. She has edited magazines and newsletters since 1976, and was the first blind Peace Corps volunteer. She lives with her family in a 100-year-old home in Kentucky. Her first book, Chasing the Green Sun, published in 2012, is available from Amazon and other bookstores and in audio form. She loves writing flash fiction stories, and was the primary editor for the first Behind Our Eyes anthology, as well as Magnets and Ladders from 2011 through 2013. She enjoys college basketball, barbershop harmony, and adventure books. Visit her website:

An Old Man Sneezed on Me, fiction First Place, 2017
by Leonard Tuchyner

When I was five-years-old, my grandfather held me in his lap. He was a very nice man, and he treated me very well. He made me feel especially special. Of course, when you’re only five, a lot of people make you feel special. It’s confusing, though. Sometimes people acted like I was bothering them. I suspected that because they would say things like, “Get away, Kid, you’re bothering me.” Or, “Why don’t you go outside and play. It’s such a nice day.” Or, “If you don’t stop following me, I’m going to throw you down a sewer pipe, and Mom and Dad won’t ever find you.” But Grandpa always made me feel wanted.

But there were things about Grandpa that made me wonder. I asked my mom once, “Why does Grandpa have skin all wrinkly-up like a prune? Why are his hands full of those brown spots? Why is there no hair at the very top of his head? Why is the rest of his hair white? Why does he take his teeth out at night, and how does he do that? Why is his nose getting so long? Why….”

“All right, all right, already,” she said. “That’s just what happens to people when they get old.”

Now, I thought that was really exciting. I knew getting older was good, because whenever I asked why my brother was allowed to do things I wasn’t, the answer was always, “Because he’s older. When you’re older, you’ll be able to do those things, too.”

“Is Grandpa older than me?” I asked once.

Mom laughed and said, “Of course, Silly.”

“When I get as old as Grandpa, will I be able to take out my teeth and put them in a glass of water?”

“Not if you brush your teeth and see the dentist regularly,” she answered.

So I tried to stop brushing my teeth and made a big fuss whenever it was time to see the dentist. But my Mom and Dad still made me do those things. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to keep me from having removable teeth.

One day, while I was sitting on Grandpa’s lap, he started to take deep breaths, the kind you take when you are about to sneeze. So I knew what was coming. I looked very closely into his mouth, because I didn’t want to miss any of it. It was interesting the way he looked like he was going to yawn, and how his eyes almost closed in that funny way. I wanted to see the water coming out of his mouth, so I got my eyes as close to it as I could. When it came, it was a whopper. I was drenched in his spray. I heard Mom make a kind of scream from across the room. Grandpa was doing that kind of breathing that told me he was rearing back to make another go at it. I wondered whether it was going to be another lollapalooza like the first one. Grandpa could make the house shake with his sneezes. I hoped I’d be able to do that when I got bigger. But before he could get off another shot, my Mom grabbed me off his lap and rushed me into the bathroom, where she started to wash my face with that terrible washrag. She was very upset. I heard Grandpa make two more sneezes. They were humdingers. I was angry at Mom for making me miss them.

“Don’t you ever, ever, ever let somebody sneeze on you. Do you understand me?” she yelled at me.

“Yes Ma’am.” I said. But I only said that because I knew that if I said I didn’t understand, I would be sorry. She would give me a lecture about it, and I would have to sit quietly and listen. But my ploy didn’t work. She told me anyway.

“People carry germs and you don’t want those germs spread all over you. If they’re sick, they’ll make you sick too. You’ll get whatever they have. You could die from some of the things people carry around in them.”

Now, this was more interesting, “What kind of things?”

“Like polio, or a cold, or pneumonia, or leprosy.”

“Does Grandpa have lep – ro- see, Mom?”

“No, no, that was just an example.”

“What does he have that he could give me?”

“Oh, never mind. He’s just an old man who doesn’t know enough to cover his mouth when he sneezes. When you know you are going to sneeze, you must always cover your mouth. Promise me.”

I shook my head up and down once. She took a deep breath and made a sound that I found out was a sigh. Then she shook her head slowly like she was saying, “No.” that was confusing.

Anyway, I found out she was telling me the truth, because when I was six, a girl in the first grade had cooties, and she kissed me when I wasn’t looking. A kiss is a little like a sneeze. At least it was the way she did it. And, sure enough, I got the cooties. At least everyone said I did. Another time, a boy sneezed on me, and I got the measles. He got the measles, too. I figure he had them before me and gave them to me before they had shown themselves. So I know it’s true. If someone sneezes on you, you get what they have, and it usually isn’t something you want.

One day I came home from school, and Grandpa wasn’t there to greet me. Mom wasn’t there either. Dad was still at work. My brother hadn’t come home yet, but my aunt was there to greet me.

“Where is everybody?” I asked.

“You’re grandfather isn’t feeling well. Everyone has gone to the hospital to take care of him.”

“When will he be back? I need to talk to him about David.”

“Who is David?”

“The person I need to talk to Grandpa about. When will he be home?”

“I don’t know, Honey.”

There was that word, “Honey”. My aunt only used that word when there was bad news, like when my cat died. I’d come home from school, just like now. Mom and Dad were at the vet’s, getting him frozen or something.

“When are Mom and Dad coming home?”

“That depends on how Grandpa is doing. You wouldn’t want them to just leave him there, would you?”

That’s when I ran up to my room. This didn’t feel right, and I didn’t want to think about it any more. When my brother came home from school, I overheard him talking to Auntie.

“He’s gonna die, isn’t he?” my brother said.

“Now we don’t know that, Tommy.”

“Yes, he is. He’s old. Old people die.” Then I heard the door slam. I looked out the window and saw Tommy running down the street with his baseball glove.

So I knew Grandpa was dying, and I knew that it was because he was old. The thing he had was oldness. I never knew it could kill you. Then I knew why Mom was so upset when Grandpa sneezed on me. What he had was oldness, and now I was going to get old too, just like when I caught the measles. I was mad at Grandpa, because he should have covered his mouth.

Don’t you dare tell me I don’t know what I’m talking about. You see, I did get old. And I know it’s a terminal condition. Of course, I don’t blame Grandpa anymore. I would have caught old age eventually, even if he hadn’t sneezed on me. Some other person who was growing old would have done it sooner or later. Or maybe I would have just picked it up from swimming in the wrong swimming pool, or eating an old fish. There’s just no helping it. Everybody I know has it. It’s not so bad at first. In fact, getting older is a good thing. For instance, I can take my teeth out now. Besides, they say it has a happy ending. Maybe I’ll even get to sit on Grandpa’s knee again.

“An Old Man Sneezed on Me” was previously published in the Spring/Summer 2017 edition of Magnets and Ladders.

Gold Star, memoir nonfiction First Place, 2018
by Greg Pruitt

I was once a paperboy. Not the, “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” kind of big city Newsy, who stood on the street corners in old time movies, but like the ones in a thousand neighborhoods in cities and towns, large and small across America, who rode their bikes, or walked city streets with heavy bags slung across their slender shoulders.

This was at a time when nearly every home received a newspaper. Readers could choose from four daily editions, the Flint Journal or three Detroit papers, the Free Press, the News, and the Times. Of course, the number of subscribers determined the amount of money you could make. Routes seemed to range in areas from 16 to 20 blocks. These jobs were coveted by boys ages 11 to 15. If your timing was good, you worked one of the larger routes in your neighborhood. If not so lucky, you received one some distance from your home. Unfortunately, I was 11-years-old, one of the youngest, without any inside connections to the business, so I received one of the smallest areas, the Times and News. The total subscriptions would vary, but at its highest, I had perhaps only 30 customers.

Why anyone subscribed to papers from another city was a mystery to me. We were 75 miles north of Detroit. Possibly people sought a paper with a particular political slant, or maybe they had moved from Detroit and were unwilling to sever a connection with an earlier life. Whatever their reasons, my customers were my only source of income, so I was willing to make a daily delivery to their house.

I badly wanted a transistor radio that cost $75, an enormous amount of money for a kid at that time. At about $4.00 a week in earnings, it would take months to amass that much cash.

The city had been planned so that each neighborhood had its own business center, where there was usually a drug store, grocery, bar, small restaurant, or sometimes a barber shop. My bundle of papers was dropped off there. Six days a week, they would arrive in the afternoon, and I would pick them up later for delivery.

I had a large, wire basket that was attached to the front wheel and handlebars of my red Schwinn Corvette, and I folded and stuffed papers into that basket before setting out. Many of the homes had porches which spanned the full width of the house, that I could hit while still moving on my bike, but the fear of breaking a window usually forced me to stop and make sure the paper landed safely near the front door. Even though I took precautions, I remember missing porches entirely on windy days. Once a paper landed on a roof, and while funny now, I am sure it was not so amusing at the time.

The difficulty of the job varied with the days of the week. Tuesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays were the easiest. Those papers were thin and simple to fold. Wednesdays and Sundays were the hardest and often needed a rubber band to keep them in one piece. Those editions contained extra advertisements and on Sunday, the comics added to my burden. In addition, the Sunday papers were dropped off well before dawn, and it was expected that they be on the customer's porch by sunrise.

When the weather was good, the work was fine, but in the winter it was miserable. The cold, heavy snow, and early sunset made it difficult to ride my bike, so I was forced to cover the route on foot, a task that today might result in a parent being accused of neglect or abuse.

While peddling the papers was challenging, the worst part of the job was trying to collect payment every two weeks. I kept a book, checked off boxes, and punched a card when I received my money. The paper cost 90 cents for the full 14-day period. You would think that with that amount, when I was given a dollar, a small tip wouldn't be too much to expect, but these were depression era people who kept their money close. So nearly every time, I would dig in my jeans for change, place the coin in their palm, and watch the hand snap shut like some sort of small animal trap. Giving a dime for no good reason to a kid was an extravagance sometimes reserved for Christmas.

Other than an occasional hello as a paper was delivered, I had little interaction with the homeowner, other than when I collected payment. So it was at these times I would step onto a porch, ring the bell or knock on a door, and wait to be acknowledged. Usually, the encounter was brief. I would state my purpose, accept payment, and be on my way. People rarely took the time to exchange pleasantries.

However, there was an older, gray haired woman, who must have been in her 50's or 60's, who would often ask me to step in. She lived alone in her small, two-story home. She would inquire as to how I was doing and sometimes offer me a cookie or piece of candy. The woman would also allow me to keep the extra ten cents. I politely thanked her and told her I would see her again in another two weeks.

Making my daily rounds was like that week after week. I walked or rode my bike, was chased by dogs, and folded thousands of newspapers, staining my hands and clothes black with printer's ink, until one late summer's afternoon, when I came to collect at the woman's home.

As usual, she greeted me with a smile and gave me a dollar, telling me to keep the change. I thanked her and was about to leave when she said that she had something for me. She then presented me with a gift, a T-Shirt from the Ohio turnpike, which she had bought for me while on vacation. Feeling a little self-conscious, I accepted her gift and thanked her again.

I stared at her and finally gathered enough courage to ask why she was always so nice to me. She said that I reminded her of her son when he was my age. I asked where her son was now. She paused and then in almost a whisper, told me that he was dead. He had been killed in the war. I mumbled that I was sorry to hear that. The situation became awkward as she began to cry. She reached out and held me, and I stood there, locked in her embrace, not knowing what to do, until slowly being released. Then, seemingly embarrassed, she turned away and wiped the tears from her eyes, while I, confused and feeling somewhat guilty, opened the exterior door, and like a thief, quietly escaped to the street, leaving her alone in her sadness.

Thereafter, I made an effort to wear the shirt she had given me when I expected to see her. Each time I collected, she would smile, make some form of small talk, and send me on my way without mentioning her son. We had shared a painful, private moment that was best left unspoken.

Eventually, I had accumulated enough money to buy my radio, and perhaps a year later, I gave up my route, and never saw the woman again.

So many years have passed, but I still remember seeing the faded yellow star in the window beside her door, but as a child, had failed to understand its meaning. Now I know that her family, like several hundred thousand other families, must have received a telegram announcing the death of a soldier, and she had been awarded the star by the American Organization of Gold Star Mothers during World War II.

Lost in sorrow, she remained forever a heartbroken mother, who baked cookies and waited in vain for a son who would never return.

“Gold Star” was previously published in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of Magnets and Ladders.

Sycamore Ghosts, poetry, nature and the outdoors Grand Prize, 2019
by Wesley D. Sims

Midwinter, late day, slanting sun
filters through the southern woods,
glints on bare trunks and branches
of sycamore trees lined across
the ridge like a brigade
of Confederate gray ghosts,
their energy now depleted,
their hope diminished,
bodies threadbare and mangled,
their weapons lost or broken,
their bruised, gnarled limbs
aimed heavenward as if
in abject surrender.

“Sycamore Ghosts” was published in the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of Magnets and Ladders.

Bio: Wesley Sims has published three chapbooks of poetry: When Night Comes, 2013; Taste of Change, 2019; and A Pocketful of Little Poems, 2020. His work has appeared in Artemis Journal, Connecticut Review, G.W. Review, Liquid Imagination, Pine Mountain Sand and Gravel, Plum Tree Tavern, Novelty Magazine, Poem, Poetry Quarterly, Time of Singing, Bewildering Stories, and others. He lost hearing completely in one ear and has severe hearing loss in the other.

Honey, I’m Home: Beyond the Rescue Door, memoir nonfiction First Place, 2020
by Bonnie Blose

Is it possible for any of us to know how much we need love or how much we have to give? Honey lived with me for 11 and a half years and taught me more about love than any person ever could.

We weren’t supposed to end up together. I was still heartbroken over the death of my cat Muff from Feline Leukemia. When my friend Marilyn Simmon called to ask if I would like to go “just see some cats” at a local rescue shelter, I said yes. One of the first lessons of loss of love is to show how much that loss means by giving love to someone or something else.

Jan James met us at the door of her rescue business with a smile. The room was filled with the happy activity of animals and people comfortable with one another.

We began discussing the type of kitten I was looking for. She had twin sisters in mind, but since my landlord would allow just one and she did not wish to separate them, I had to refuse.

Back then, I believed I could order my world. The cat I chose would be my choice.

I didn’t know her yet, but Honey, a beautiful tortoiseshell, had other ideas. Without uttering one meow, she changed my life forever.

I’ll always remember our first meeting. Honey, or, a cat, as I thought of her then, came in through the cat door and without hesitation, jumped up on my lap, turned in a circle or two, and settled down as if she had found home, as she certainly had. Oh, have I mentioned yet that animals are smarter than people? Honey was.

Is love found in a day? Will it last? Filled with promise and questions without answers, it begins with hope.

Like people, all animals have a history. Some are born under a lucky star. Needs are met, food plentiful. The homes they live in are warm and full of love.

My Honey had a story of a different kind. She could not tell me the circumstances of her early life. She could not share the pain from the attack of a pack of dogs when she was young. She couldn’t tell me about her fear of strangers or how long she lay alone and frightened before they found her. Honey couldn't tell me about the operation she had to save her life. My sweet kitten was an animal with an old soul but a huge heart.

Jan told me what she could about Honey’s early life. My imagination filled the gaps with possibilities too terrible to contemplate.

As I sat holding her for the first time, I promised I would love her always and that she would have all she needed. She would be safe. No one would ever hurt her again. There was nothing she would ever have to fear.

As we began our life together, Honey wanted to stay on my lap or be near me and only me. A test revealed she did not have Feline Leukemia, so often fatal to cats.

For the next 11 years, we shared life in the old farmhouse I rented. She slept with me most nights. Cats are known for their curiosity. Honey couldn't resist an open door, any open door. Whether it was the basement, old barn on the property, or a garage, if a door was open, she went through it. Looking back, I am not sure if it was curiosity or safety from danger Honey sought. Many times I called my landlord to ask him to open the barn or garage door to let her out. Each time I asked, he did.

As she grew older, she went out less and stayed home more. At night, I would lie on my side with Honey on top. Although I pleaded and begged, I learned to turn over with her right there.

One of the first utterances I heard from Honey was what sounded like the word I. I used to tell everyone she just might be the first English speaking cat. Often, I wished I could understand all the things she told me. I knew when she wanted food, to go in or out, and how much she loved to eat what I did, especially chicken. If I could, I would have made it for her a lot more, but we can’t turn back time or change what has already been done.

One day, a friend came to visit with his wife and small dog. In that moment, I learned the depth of Honey’s love and fear. When she saw George’s little dog, she held on to me with all her strength and heart. Suddenly, I knew what had frightened her so many years before. Small dogs had terrorized her. I understood what happened but it brought a terrible memory I wanted never to return for her.

For the last three years of her life, Honey changed. She began suffering from anxiety. Honey found safety in high places and wanted me to move her food from place to place including putting it on narrow windowsills which required my holding the bowl there until she had finished eating.

One day, she jumped on top of the piano and pushed an old keyboard which narrowly missed my head as it fell.

I thought about all the things which could hurt me if she knocked them from high shelves. Sometimes, we would both have a respite from her anxiety. I treasured those times. Friends told me she was lucky to have chosen me and said most people would not keep her.

In a marriage, we promise “until death do us part.” That was the vow I made to Honey in the life she and I built together. She could not tell me why she was terrified, but she knew she needed someone who cared for her and loved her. She trusted I would do both. I did. In many relationships, there are regrets, but my only one is that I didn’t have her long enough. Honey taught me love should always come first. She taught me the importance of finding patience when I didn’t understand why she behaved as she did. Honey talked constantly, so I know she believed in keeping lines of communication open. She taught me the importance of going through an open door and how important it is to live life to the fullest, giving and doing the best I can. As life unfolds, unexpected changes come. She stayed true to her love for me. I hope I gave her all the love she needed and then some.

Honey survived so much. Naively, I sometimes thought she would live for many years to come. In the summer of 2018, she started having difficulty keeping food down. At the time, I had recently broken my shoulder and feared she would not live long enough for me to give her the physical comfort we both needed so much. Is there anything worse than not saying something you wish you could or not being able to help when another is in pain? I cried. I pleaded and begged the universe for help. In tears, I prayed to God trying to find words to say how much I wanted her well again. There were not enough days or hours in the world for us. Death is like that. It comes but is not welcome taking what we love most.

For a few weeks, Honey seemed to be getting better. She was eating, but I knew our time together might still be short. Sometimes, God answers our prayers for a brief time, but it is an answered prayer nevertheless. I got to hold her again. For a few more nights, we slept together as we had so many times before. For just a few weeks, I could tell her how much I loved her and make the chicken she loved.

As September came the nights grew cooler and shorter. Honey’s illness returned. Faced with medical bills of my own and a limited income and concerned about the stress a visit for tests would cause her, I made the decision to allow Honey to stay at home with me until the end. For days that seemed like lifetimes, I watched her struggle to keep food down. I told her I loved her, but it wasn’t enough. Love demands so much. I began to understand it could be as difficult for her to leave me as it was for me to let her go. She no longer followed me upstairs but stayed close to me until the day before she died.

Newfound wisdom comes in painful moments. I know now I needed Honey as much as she needed me. I think my precious and dearest friend with that old soul knew how much I did.

If love is a bright light that shines inviting me home, I believe she is waiting to welcome me in to her heavenly world someday. It is what I live and long for. When that day comes and we are together again, I will want nothing more.

“Honey, I’m Home: Beyond The Rescue Door” was the First Place winner of the National Federation of the Blind Writers’ Division’s 2020 contest in the nonfiction category and was published in the Fall/Winter edition of Magnets and Ladders.

Part V. The Writers’ Climb

There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural History of Blindness, book excerpt, nonfiction Second Place
by M. Leona Godin

From Homer to Helen Keller, from Dune to Stevie Wonder, from the invention of braille to the science of echolocation, M. Leona Godin explores the fascinating history of blindness, interweaving it with her own story of gradually losing her sight.

There Plant Eyes probes the ways in which blindness has shaped our ocularcentric culture, challenging deeply ingrained ideas about what it means to be “blind.” For millennia, blindness has been used to signify such things as thoughtlessness (“blind faith”), irrationality (“blind rage”), and unconsciousness (“blind evolution”). But at the same time, blind people have been othered as the recipients of special powers as compensation for lost sight (from the poetic gifts of John Milton to the heightened senses of the comic book hero Daredevil).

Godin—who began losing her vision at age ten—illuminates the often-surprising history of both the condition of blindness and the myths and ideas that have grown up around it over the course of generations. She combines an analysis of blindness in art and culture (from King Lear to Star Wars) with a study of the science of blindness and key developments in accessibility (the white cane, embossed printing, digital technology) to paint a vivid personal and cultural history.

A genre-defying work, There Plant Eyes reveals just how essential blindness and vision are to humanity's understanding of itself and the world.

Excerpt from Chapter 17: Constructing Blind Pride out of Ancient and Evolutionary Blind Memes

Real or imagined, Homer is a kind of ground zero for a vast network of blind memes that dot our cultural landscape, but his image also literally gave rise to other blind bards; it's hard to imagine John Milton lying down in darkness night after night to compose Paradise Lost if he'd not had the image of Homer in his head. Likewise, armed with the blind seer Tiresias, Milton could take pride in his ability to “plant eyes” in that darkness and “see and tell of things invisible to mortal sight.”

I employ the word “meme” as the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins originally intended: as “cultural replicator.” We'll return to Dawkins and his coining of “meme” shortly, but for now, I'd like to suggest that the blind meme is a cultural replicator that-through image, text, and language-influences our understanding of actual blind people, so that realities blur with archetypes.

If the blind memes of ancient Greece have helped some, such as Milton, to construct careers out of blindness in an ocularcentric world, they can also be somewhat constraining. Once I went to an RP support group in San Francisco, where an older gentleman told us how he'd been sitting in the BART station with his guide dog reading the newspaper. A stranger came up to him and said, “You don't look blind!” So the man reached in his bag, pulled out his dark glasses, put them on, and continued reading the paper. We all had a good belly laugh.

We blind and visually impaired folk spend not a little virtual and in-person communal time laughing at the simple- mindedness of sighted people. We complain also, and gripe and grumble at the lack of sensitivity of those with perfectly functioning eyes who tend to think they rule the world, but we have jokes too, a whole class of which have to do with the “you don't look blind” line. I suppose we have a few thousand years of blind images with which we must contend, and reading the newspaper with a guide dog is not one of them.

The monolith of blindness tends not to allow for diversity, making the blind woman a less-common meme, and the blind child almost unheard of, although the blind youth is famous enough: remember the blind stripling, who taps his way through Joyce's Ulysses, trailing associations that are both an echo of, and a far cry from, the Homeric blind bard.

The average sighted person likely encounters many more blind memes than blind people. In Blindness in Literature, Jacob Twersky writes, “Considering how tiny a minority the blind have always formed-it is believed that they have rarely exceeded a small fraction of one percent of the population- they have decidedly received disproportionate attention in literature. Clearly, that in itself is significant, indicating that they have been found especially interesting or curious, stimulating to the imagination and the emotions.”

Even if recent estimates are more generous-approximately 2.4 percent of adults sixteen years and older in the United States, according to statistics at the National Federation of the Blind in 2016-blindness remains relatively rare in the under-sixty-five set.

Because there are relatively few of us, blind people are often thought of as all being kind of alike. I recently reconnected with a former colleague from NYU- Elizabeth Bearden, who is now a professor of Renaissance studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. We met toward the end of her PhD studies when I was still in the middle of mine. We quickly became friends as we discovered many shared experiences as visually impaired women who had stumbled through college trying to pass as sighted. She had a guide dog before I did, a golden retriever. Mine, later, was a black lab. In a recent conversation, she reminded me how the NYU community- from students to security guards-would often confuse us even though we didn't look at all alike-she and her guide dog, Shirley, were blond while Millennium and I had dark fur and hair, respectively.

Elizabeth and I did have things in common, including a group of friends who were all literature graduate students. However, sometimes it is just assumed that blind people must be friends with one another-perhaps even each other's only friend. In her 2019 memoir about her journey to become the first deafblind graduate of Harvard Law School, Haben Girma tells a story of how she was wandering around her college cafeteria trying to find an empty seat, when a stranger tapped her on her arm and asked if she was looking for her friend. Although she was not sure what friend the woman might be referring to, she agreed and was immediately led over to the other blind person in the room.

Haben is partially deaf and blind, so that when the woman found her “friend,” she was able to see the long white cane and realized who it belonged to. She greeted her acquaintance, Bill, “a first-year student from New Mexico who is also blind. People here talk loudly to him, so he keeps trying to explain that he's not me.” They laughed at the volunteer helper who presumed Haben was looking for her own kind because “all blind people must be friends, right?”

Perhaps these confusions and assumptions stem from the idea that a sighted person cannot actually communicate in any ordinary sense with a blind person, as was so painfully illustrated in a 2014 New York Times opinion piece titled “Why Do We Fear the Blind?” In it, a teacher of blind children tells how she was prompted to write the essay by a woman at a party who asked, “How do you talk to your students?”

After explaining that the students were not deaf, the woman said, “Yes, I know they're not deaf. But what I really mean is, how do you actually talk to them?” The confusion seems startlingly ingrained. If we the blind live in a totally different perceptual universe, then ordinary communication is not possible, leaving room only for extraordinary platitudes.

In the introduction to Monstrous Kinds, which investigates how people with disabilities defined and were defined by early modern artistic representations, my former fellow grad-school blindie Elizabeth indulges in a rare personal anecdote in order to explain how ancient supernatural attitudes toward blind people coexist with more modern medical models: “As a blind woman navigating the streets of New York City, I have been told I am a blessed miracle as I emerge from the subway, am amazing as I buy a regular coffee, and am just like the girl the doorman saw on the news last night, whose vision was 'fixed' thanks to a miraculous medical procedure.”

In other words we are considered to be touched by God, endowed with superpowers, or in need of a cure. I think a majority of blind people experience these contradictory attitudes on an almost daily basis for no better reason than that we the blind parade through the theater of sighted people's lives as representations. Blindness must mean something, and therefore the blind individual must also mean something. We are regarded as signs and symbols, not people, which helps to explain why blind memes are so popular.

As noted above, the word “meme” was coined by Richard Dawkins, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene. In that book, which is about gene-centered evolution, he identifies the lack of a word to designate the cultural replicator-and comes up with his own: “meme.” Like so many of our important words in English, this one is consciously taken from Greek: “ 'Mimeme' comes from a suitable Greek root,” Dawkins writes, “but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like 'gene.' I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to 'memory,' or to the French word meme [same]. It should be pronounced to rhyme with 'cream.' ”

While genes replicate themselves by leaping from body to body by sexual reproduction, memes “propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.” Dawkins enumerates some examples: “tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.”

Unfortunately, the very useful word “meme” has been crudely co-opted or-to use Dawkins's own term-“hijacked” by the Internet.

When I read The Selfish Gene and learned about the meme as cultural replicator, I felt shortchanged by the Internet and the sighted people who wield those (mostly) visual gags as if they were litmus tests for wit and cleverness. Memes have been distorted into (mostly) inaccessible social media image tidbits that seem so devoid of interest once they are translated into the spoken word by sighted friends that I, for one, feel a little cheap for even bothering to be curious about them when they come my way. But what can you do? Dawkins's brilliant conception of the meme is, for most people, nearly synonymous with the flotsam and jetsam of the Internet that streams in front of their overburdened eyeballs every day. But those are Internet memes, not to be confused with the meme itself, which can be so many things: a symbol like the cross, a character like Hamlet, an image like Botticelli's Venus, an idea like ocularcentrism. Interesting to note that after I used this term in a Facebook post, a friend created an Internet meme with image and text that explained what ocularcentrism is and gave me credit for turning people on to the term.

We encounter many blind memes in this book: the blind bard, the blind seer, Helen Keller herself (with her attendant jokes and water-pump scene), the biblical-turned- hymn-lyric “I once was blind” (and the song in which it figures, “Amazing Grace,” which is so recognizable that it is nearly a cliche), the confused blind man a la Gloucester, and the Molyneux Man (and all the instances of curing blindness ever since), and so many, many more. Thus I've been concerned with the blind meme network in all its paradoxical complexities from the start, but here I'm explicitly invoking Dawkins's terminology because he not only gave me this wonderfully useful way of conceptualizing the cultural replicator of blindness, he also presented me with “the blind watchmaker,” a perfect foil for the blind bard and a painful reminder of how easily blindness is conflated with unconsciousness.

The word “blind” in The Blind Watchmaker signifies, as it so often does, unconsciousness, thoughtlessness, a lack of foresight: “Natural selection is the blind watchmaker, blind because it does not see ahead, does not plan consequences, has no purpose in view.”

The word “poet” derives from the ancient Greek word poiein (“to make”), and so the blind watchmaker is perhaps less different from the blind bard than might be assumed at first glance. On the one hand, we have the poem-maker, who is capable of creating literary worlds and beautiful music-think Homer and Demodocus-and on the other hand, we have a watchmaker capable of designing the most intricate life-forms in the physical world. In the first case, blindness signifies a physical lack of sight that enables the poetic skills to blossom: musicality and an ear receptive to the voice of the Muse. In the second case, the word “blind” symbolizes purposelessness, making the blind watchmaker an unconscious creator: “In the case of living machinery,” writes Dawkins in his consideration of the marvels of bats, “the 'designer' is unconscious natural selection, the blind watchmaker.”

At the risk of loading too much power or blame on Dawkins, it seems to me that he has helped to make “blind” and “evolution” an almost inevitable pair. Consider this moment in the brilliant and sweeping history of humankind, Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari: “Humans are the outcome of blind evolutionary processes that operate without goal or purpose.”10

I recognize the danger of being called a politically correct whiner, but language is important. It shapes how we think and how we write. Language helps us conceptualize who we are, and can have grave consequences for our expectations and sense of power, as well as our political rights.

“It may look to you like it's only words,” writes Michael Berube in his 1996 memoir, Life as We Know It, an account of raising a child with Down syndrome, “but perhaps the fragile neonates whose lives were impeded by the policies-and conditions-of institutionalization can testify in some celestial court to the power of mere language, to the intimate links between words and social policies.” The point holds for all disabilities.

We, the people who have disabilities, may not always agree on our terms, but we generally agree that the terms matter, and that, as societies change and grow, so does the terminology we use. Not too many people call themselves handicapped or crippled anymore, although “crip” has been adopted by many in the disability community (as in crip theory, crip time, and cripping the vote).

Interestingly, as sensitive and smart as Berube is on the relationship between our cultural construction of disability and its genetic realities, he is for just one instant pulled into Dawkins's rhetorical use of blindness after discussing The Selfish Gene: “Maybe the origins of the concept of justice, and the possibility of altruism that it entails, should be sought in provisional forms of conscious, linguistically mediated human agreement rather than in the blind workings of primordial ooze.”

Talk about the propagation of a meme! It's like a mental tic or a contagious yawn, this use of “blind.” I almost want to deploy it myself: “Stop your blind use of the word 'blind'!” But what I mean is “Stop your thoughtless use of the word 'blind'!” I urge a dismantling of such broad rhetorical use, because when legions of sighted readers encounter these offhanded yet grandiose metaphors in works of true nonfiction brilliance, it seems to me inevitable that “blind” cannot help but signify something much more diabolical than lack of sight.

I think metaphors matter because they shape and are shaped by our language, and there can be little doubt that language shapes our thought and, by extension, our assumptions, prejudices, and biases-all of which do in fact affect the quality of life of many blind and visually impaired people on a daily basis. The glaring problem with the ubiquitous use of “blind” as a pejorative epithet is that for those of us who have little or no sight, it makes it awfully hard to construe, let alone celebrate, any kind of blind pride alongside other pride movements.
There Plant Eyes is available as an eBook and audiobook (read by the author) at all major commercial bookstores: Amazon, Audible, Apple, Barns & Noble. It is also available on Bookshare.

Bio: M. Leona Godin is a writer, performer, educator, and the author of There Plant Eyes: A Personal and Cultural history of Blindness (Pantheon, 2021). Her
writing has appeared in The New York Times, Playboy, O Magazine, Electric Literature, Poets & Writers, Catapult, and other print and online publications.
Godin received her PhD from New York University in literature. She produced two plays: The Star of Happiness about Helen Keller's time performing in vaudeville, and The Spectator and the Blind Man, about the invention of braille. Her online magazine exploring the arts and sciences of smell and taste, Aromatica Poetica, publishes writing and art from around the world.

The Photo Shoot, nonfiction
by Nancy Scott

“If you write this, don't use my name,” the photographer says. “Make me be French, like Marguerite.” I laugh, wondering if we all wish we could be different.

I have resisted a real head shot for years (or decades?). I'm sure I do not look good in pictures. But an online project wants my captured face for the Kitchen Shelf Gallery poetry event.

My mother mostly didn't like my school pictures. My brother said my adult eyes were sunken enough to look “Cro-Magnon.”

I picked out a top that the color-identifier said was “dark pink.” My non-French picture-taker mentioned pink as a good choice for me. I didn't know pink could be “dark.”

“Stunning” was the word my photographer used to describe the top. I've never independently chosen a stunning top in my entire life.

In unaccented English, Marguerite assured me that my eyes were not those of cave dwellers. A little eye make-up and a pat of hairspray were all she applied. We were sitting on a bench outside and my balcony neighbors were watching for all they were worth. That made me laugh some more. I wanted to tell them that I was a published-enough author to need a headshot. But I'd settle for being mysterious and talked about.

Headshots are tricky for a blind person. Surely, something would not work. Marguerite's phone camera didn't make noise so she mostly snapped me without me knowing. I do not pose well. I try to concentrate at looking where I'm told and it makes me look unhappy. Also, I have no control over my eye muscles and concentrating makes my eyes close.

There's all this talk about sun. And shade. And colors of walls. And doors behind us. “One step this way. One step back. Stop. Don't move.” How could one step matter so much?

Anyone in the parking lot will be curious. They don't know about the wannabe-French photographer or the potentially famous face.

I'm finally curious about how I look. On a beautiful day when I can pick the exact right thing to wear, how bad could it be? (Well, not counting the picture when Marguerite cut off the top of my head.)

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 900 essays and poems have appeared in magazines, literary journals, anthologies, newspapers, and as audio commentaries. Her latest chapbook The Almost Abecedarian, appears on Amazon. She won First Prize in the 2009 International Onkyo Braille Essay Contest. Her recent work appears in Black Fox Literary Magazine, Braille Forum, Chrysanthemum, Kaleidoscope, One Sentence Poems, Shark Reef, Wordgathering, and The Mighty, which regularly publishes to Yahoo News.

Contest Alert:

Do you write book reviews? Have you read a book that has made a lasting impression? After reading, has your perspective on an issue changed or do you see some aspect of the world in a new way? Do characters and plots stay with you after you finish a book? If so, this one-time contest is for you.

Magnets and Ladders is having a one-time, special contest for the Spring/Summer 2022 edition. The Bonnie Blose Memorial Book Review Contest is open for submissions of book reviews of fiction and nonfiction books. Behind Our Eyes president, Alice Massa has generously donated funds allowing us to award prizes of $50 to the author of one book review of a fiction and one review of a nonfiction book.

Please note the following:
– Book reviews must not exceed one thousand words.
– You may submit one book review in each category.
– One prize of $50 will be awarded for one book review of a fiction book.
– One prize of $50 will be awarded for a book review of a nonfiction book.
– Book review submissions do not count toward the three submission maximum for Magnets and Ladders submissions.
– This contest is only for the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders.
The deadline for book review submissions is February 15.

Isolation to Inspiration, nonfiction
by Writing Works Wonders

The story of two author-educators experiencing sight-loss, who find a common vision of-encouraging, inspiring, and accelerating writers' sharing and development through a global platform for author interviews, virtual workshops, open mic events and more. Readers also enjoy the opportunity to interact with some of their favorite authors, such as Dr. Patrick Taylor, Jodi Thomas, Pamela Kelley and beloved narrator Kristin Allison.

Writing Works Wonders is the brainchild of Cheryl McNeill Fisher and was launched on ACB Community calls in September 2020.

Cheryl is an accomplished author of children's books and, recently, a biography/memoire. Cheryl has been a member of ACB, GDUI, and other vision impairment and writing associations for many years. One of her series communicate the experiences and resilience of people with visual impairments, through the words of Guide Dog Sammy. She has increasingly focused on encouraging emerging and experienced writers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, when ACB Community began hosting Zoom calls on many different topics, Cheryl initiated a writing call. By 2021, she had been hoping and praying persistently for someone with whom she could work. Someone who would have the same vision, work ethic, but different skills to complement hers.

In Writing Works Wonders, the ACB Community call, Cheryl had cultivated a core group of talented writers, some of who were beginners and others quite advanced. These participants have been essential in the continuing development of this transformative endeavor. In addition, the ACB Community channel of ACB Media (fka ACB Radio) provided invaluable support in technical aspects, including streaming the interactive Zoom calls. The entire community, and world, has been adjusting to using virtual platforms to meet their social needs.

In February of 2021, Dr. Kathy King suffered additional loss of sight and reached out to ACB through several community calls. When Kathy phoned into Writing Works Wonders virtual session, she met Cheryl and fellow authors. At that point, she knew that these people had similar goals, needs, and vision. Having published many books, led writing workshops and conferences worldwide, and recently retired from university professorship, she recognized an opportunity to use her expertise to continue to support writers.

Kathy and Cheryl began talking and emailing that week. Very shortly, including a test run and many discussions, Cheryl invited her to cohost the calls.

The vision of Writing Works Wonders has been refined, keeping the fundamental commitment constant: to encourage and support writers at all levels of experience with different abilities. This vision means both writers and readers benefit from the varied programming.

Reaching Further
Cheryl and Kathy implemented their vision and carefully, but quickly, fleshed out the scope and infrastructure of Writing Works Wonders. A high priority was to be able to repurpose their content and reach a larger audience.

Leveraging their many skills, these women have accomplished all of these goals on a very slim budget. To increase flexibility of their program, they purchased their own accounts for Zoom and podcast hosting. They started editing the Zoom recordings before posting on the public podcast. They also built a website to house and consolidate all of these essential components.

Together, they have worked hard to spread the word about the podcast and live Zoom calls through social media. Readers can follow Writing Works Wonders on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Next, Cheryl and Kathy are growing their group of followers and supports to spread the word of the podcast interviews, events and opportunities.

Cheryl and Kathy achieved so much in so little time because they developed a warm, comfortable partnership which is sustained by mutual respect and trust. They both understood that they needed to communicate frequently and freely with one another. Perhaps this point was one of the most important steps they took to build a strong, creative, effective, working relationship and friendship.

The website has much more than the fabulous show archive. Visitors will also find an abundance of resources, tips, and special content for writers. Cheryl and Kathy post short, Author Clinics, also referred to as Author Accelerators. The accelerators provide valuable productivity, writing, and marketing guidance for authors and publishers.


LIVE on ACB New Media's Community Channel, Friday 1pm Eastern. (Previously known as ACB Radio.)

All podcast platforms.

Tell Alexa/Echo, “Play Podcast Writing Works Wonders.”

Visit for the latest episodes.

Bio: Cheryl McNeil Fisher Is an author, keynote speaker, educator, coach, and podcaster. Not only an author, for over 25 years, Cheryl has also been a national motivational speaker and workshop leader. She inspires audiences and readers to discover the strength to face setbacks, and reach their dreams. Cheryl is co-host of Writing Works Wonders podcast and communit. Visit to learn more about Cheryl's books, seminars, and speaking.

Bio: Dr. Kathleen P. King is an author, podcaster, public speaker, coach, and retired professor. In addition to being an author, she is also an editor, and guides authors through the writing and publishing processes. As a professor, her major areas of research include diversity, research, technology innovations, college teaching, and adult learning. Beginning in 2019, “Kathy” became low vision through mini-strokes and NAION; she is now legally blind. Kathy lives in Knoxville, TN actively coaching authors, podcasting, public speaking, and writing. Learn more about Writing Works Wonders and Kathy at her author site

To Whom it May concern, sestina, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

I begin to write this letter
after considerable meditation
of the exceptional accomplishments
by blind women who write rhyme
without recognition in real time.
You earned the highest recommendation.

You deserve a good recommendation
in a bold hand-written letter
across the seasons of passing time.
Your solitary path through gardens of meditation
creates a lifetime of creative rhyme
with visual explosions of poetic accomplishments.

Limited sight never limited your accomplishments
I offer a well-deserved recommendation.
Your path of beauty, in rhyme or non- rhyme
still waits for a long-overdue letter
to validate your future meditation,
revelations that will arrive in due time.

Words of wisdom take root over time
for a poetry of accomplishments.
Stanzas flourish in quiet meditation.
I will write your recommendation –
It's a privilege to write this letter
“To whom it may concern,” for the women of rhyme.

Keep on forging your multiple rhyme
hammer out vowels in double time.
Carve those lines into a permanent letter-
sing out your accomplishments
while I scribble a new recommendation
on the sidewalks beside the gardens of meditation.

Take colors you like from the meditation-
arrange them all in your verses of rhyme.
My letter of recommendation
will be mailed out on time
I'll etch your accomplishments
into a tri-fold parchment letter.

My hand-scribed meditation on the stationery of time
elicits words that rhyme, from your accomplishments
“To Whom it May Concern, here is my recommendation letter.”

Transformations: Creating an Author, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Kathleen King

I have discovered that despite our best laid plans, life has a way of unfolding in unexpected and fantastical ways. I'm a prime example of this tenet. I've heard of reluctant authors or hidden authors, but I'd be classified more as the unexpected author!

By age eleven, I began dreaming and planning for a medical career. Although my English teacher brother, 7 years my elder, did his best assigning me summer reading lists of classics across British, American and Russian literature, I was a dedicated science and math nerd.

Fast forward to my 30's and I had left behind a few careers, including medicine, and enrolling in a doctoral program in adult education. I already had my BA in Biochemistry, MA in Theology, and 30 credits in Engineering behind me.

The academic background and interests in science shaped the way I understood and organized my world. Moreover, unbeknownst to me, I was entering a career in social science research.

In the small, progressive doctoral program, I was “bit” by the research bug. The field of adult learning dovetailed with my prior community work, and interest in personal transformation. What's more, the research paradigms provided room for my creativity to mix and match across scientific and descriptive, exploratory research. These experiences revealed infinite possibilities for me. How? As a new professor, I eagerly consumed additional research books, and scaffolded techniques into new strategies. I used these research designs to explore the fascinating ways adults experienced technology and transformative learning.

One of my unique contributions to the field began quite innocently. Unlike many colleagues, I enjoyed data and calculations. I simply approached the world as a scientist and conceptualized unique social science research projects. Eventually, my exploratory, qualitative proclivities would grow more dominant.

Many writers will not identify with my fascination with research; therefore, enough said about this compelling sector of my life. However, the need to publish my research and the desire to share these novel perspectives with a larger audience propelled and inspired my development as an author. This trajectory would prove so successful that I published over 20 books and hundreds of articles as an author and editor. Such a record is rare in social science research where books and articles are reviewed by peers prior to acceptance for publication (peer-reviewed).

How Did I Do It?
Emerging from my technical background, I was not trained as a writer. Clearly, I had much remediation work. Not surprisingly, I approached it systematically, breaking down the larger task into subgoals and mapping self-created deadlines on a time line. You guessed it; this approach was a scientist in action.

Tracking Charts
I created Gannt charts to track my research projects, writing projects, grant writing and projects, and writing submissions. I used an organizing method, because I needed to have multiple, simultaneous projects to retain my position as a tenure track professor

Another key strategy was that I found volunteer coaches. These experienced professionals understood my goals, and I asked if they would occasionally counsel me regarding career decisions and review submissions that were in progress. Every person I asked was pleased to support me. It took time to develop relationships with them and work with them. From my perspective, I understood this time and learning as an investment in my professional growth. For the coaches, I made sure to respect their time, appreciate them, and acknowledge their support publicly.

My English teacher brother was now a fiction author. I enlisted him to be editor of my first major articles and books. In hindsight, he seemed a little too gleeful to hack up my work up in red ink and leave teasing comments in the margins! However, I knew he did not have an ulterior motive. Receiving his feedback never was frustrating or humiliating, because I knew I could trust him and I needed to quickly tame this writing “beast.”

Focused Learning
I also followed my brother's suggestion, maybe command, to purchase writing handbooks, including The Elements of Style. These books were so helpful that over the years, I continued collecting books on writing, and building a foundation of books I could recommend to others.

In efforts to identify my most common grammatical offenses., I invented a system to make lists of them. This simple, but effective triage system evolved into me identifying the three top items off the “grammar offense list” and writing them on a neon post- it not. Next, said post-it was stuck to my computer monitor. Before I sent out an email, memo, syllabus, or any document, I required myself to examine each line for those errors.

Within a short time, I had mastered the first post-it note errors. Then, I returned to the master error list, to select the next three items, created a new neon post-it note, and repeat the monitor posting and practice stages.

Even today, I continue to have professionals and non-academic people with good writing skills read my work. Afterwards, I examine the edits for common patterns that can be committed to a neon post-it note. If a strategy works, why quit?

Outlines and Audience
The other two major emphases which I think apply to all authors are one, the use of outlines, and two, the focus on audience.

My writing workshop students would laugh when I recounted that it only took me writing three books to surrender that it was much quicker for me to work from an outline than not! For all my organizational skills, I had resisted using outlines. The turning point with my attitude was when I understood the outline as moldable, rather than rigid. If you would, I had to shift from an image of an upright steel, cage, to a flexible, telescopic brace (Gumby-like).

In teaching writing, I refer to this as part of the “Master of the Universe” principle. Specifically, we may create an outline to organize our writing project. A critical point is that whenever we want to change it, we can. We can do so, because we are master of our universe of writing!

The outline then becomes a guiding structure, which changes as our work progresses, evolves and transforms. But this outline is a structure which provides a comprehensive view of the beginning, middle, and end of the work. Moreover, very importantly, by gradually assigning page counts to each section, the outline can help track how much space remains to accomplish our writing goals. The outline is our tool, because we are the master.

The need to focus on audience became clear for me in three distinct ways: publication, readers' attention, and readers' understanding. First, as a pre-tenured professor, I needed to publish a few articles a year in research journals. I learned from a senior colleague that I could be more successful if I read previous articles in the journals of choice, determined the style of writing they published, and identified the audience. In summary, I needed to understand the written conversation published in the journal and be relevant to their audience.

Initially, I applied these recommendations as directed. However, I knew reaching the readers was critical also, when I recognized how I taught in different ways for different groups. I also appreciated how successful stories and graphics could be to communicate-difficult concepts and hold the interest of listeners, and readers. These points confirmed the need to combine multiple devices which could leverage different preferences among readers, i.e., visuals, text, metaphors, descriptions, and more.

After publishing a few books, I began experimenting with creative devices in my academic books, which was quite usual. And very quickly I heard from reviewers, readers, and students, that my books were more memorable, easier to read, and interesting than others. My ability to match my teaching to my learners' needs, was working in my publications as well.

Thirdly, I remain committed to not becoming ensconced in erudite, academic jargon and language. If I could explain difficult concepts in simpler terms, I did it. I wanted content to be accessible and not reserved for the privileged few.

Overall, focusing on the needs, understanding, and interests of the audience, draws readers even into academic books. How much more is the focus on audience necessary in elective reading pursuits!

Technology Challenges
I have been a dedicated technology expert and aficionado since 1991. This fact has been more beneficial than I ever expected. In 2019, severe visual impairment entered my life in the form of NAION (optic nerve damage). Now my prior tech tricks do not work and technology is often a struggle. I never thought that I would write those words, because I am the inveterate “techie.” However, life evolves, twists around, and can seem to play tricks on us. As I finish one or two academic articles, continue this series of memoire essays, and embark on fiction, I know I have copious creativity and energy. However, currently, technology is the struggle. During this time, I remain on the uphill climb of the learning curve a successful author with my life's journey and my writing development continuing to unfold.


We will be holding contests in the areas of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry for the Spring/Summer edition of Magnets and Ladders. All submissions will be entered into the contest. Cash prizes of $30 and $20 will be awarded to the first and second place winners.

Please note: Funds for contest prizes are provided by Behind Our Eyes. Checks for prize winning entries not cashed within 6 months of the issue date are void and considered a donation back to Behind Our Eyes. No additional payments will be made to replace the uncashed check. If you intend your prize winnings to be a donation, please let us know upon winning so we can send you a donation receipt letter.

Remember, the deadline for submissions is February 15, so be sure to get your entries in on time.

4 AM April 27, 2021, abecedarian, poetry
by Nancy Scott

Absolutely nothing poetic is happening.
But it's Poetry Month!
Chaos, care, community, creativity
don't work right now.
Every poet needs a hiatus.
Fame hasn't arrived and form is only
geometry of desperation.
Have to stay quiet for hours yet.
I need to write SOMETHING.
Just try the abyss. Indling,
kick-start, krap mostly.
Letters on a page lead somewhere?
My language use still sucks after 38 author-years.
Nothing ever changes about the doing of a thing.
Options, opportunities, onward.
Pause too long and soft-serve incentive melts.
Quantity not quality for now.
Respect is money or discipline or braggable bylines.
Suspicion is my talent is mediocre.
There is nothing more satisfying than writing a good poem
unless it's publishing a good poem.
Vows and variables.
Will, wander, write.
X is impossible. Come back to it.
Yes, it's almost a first draft but
zebras would not be a good ending.

I Dreamed about Fido Last Night, nonfiction
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Grab a literary photo op with a smiling baby or a paws on the playhouse, tail in the air golden retriever. Politicians know it works; writers do also, but they conceal their motives. Inspired by animals, twists of plot and character development enhance your happiest moments and magnify the most frightening event sequences.

Describe the array of colors as a scarlet macaw interrupts your fight with a pet store owner. Did that Lassie-looking fur face interrupt a potentially romantic moment with a sloppy lick? Was she jealous of your heroine’s attentions from or toward a competitor?

Your villain’s plan to sneak around could be foiled by a growl. Who made that howl in the night on the campout? Was it a pack of coyotes just passing through or a lone wolf searching for food? Do you need an excuse for Gloria’s mom to discover her daughter is hanging out with some undesirables? Your Persian acts as a diversion. Of course she needs a trip to the vet who just happens to have an office near that sleazy strip mall where the kids look like they’re up to no good. Was that Gloria’s profile sneaking behind a dumpster?

Travel scenarios and advocacy pieces flaunt animal appeal to their fans. Writers who don’t feel drawn to “man vs. beast” or “girl loves horse” interactions can’t work this strategy to their advantage. Sometimes an animal is almost used like a prop or a change of lighting or backdrop for effect.

Gertrude Stein gained insight into sentence and paragraph structure as she listened to her poodle drink water. Dean Koontz and Stephen King strengthened several novels by featuring dogs as important characters. Dickens wrote a talking raven into his novel Barnaby Rudge. George Orwell used his goat Muriel as his model nanny goat in Animal Farm.

Maybe your good boy or pretty kitty won’t be famous. You could always borrow a candidate beloved by a friend or feared by the mail carrier. How about that falcon from the western you just read, or a chimp or mountain gorilla observed by Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey. A child in your book was fascinated by an exotic animal at the zoo. It changed his school progress; gave her bad dreams-just the interlude you needed to change a pattern of behavior, right?

We know that the way we treat animals says a great deal about our fear and bonding thresholds. In a memoir you might use relationships with an animal to explain character flaws or strengths and avoid accusations or gushy language. If you feature animals-real or imagined-in your work, animal lovers and supporters may see you as just a little more human than the average bear-sorry, I couldn’t resist. Just as you might write a character sketch or memoir for your main human character, try writing one for your main animal character. Draw or color the feathers, the withers, perky ears. You may have to do some research for that coil at the bottom of a fishing boat just waiting for temptation or for that fish dangling at the end of a pole just waiting to be fried. For now, scratch behind the ears of a furry friend and get the wheels turning.

Part VI. From a Different Perspective

Wishes for a Homeless Person, poetry Second Place
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Behind the Cathedral of St. John,
right on the edge of the sidewalk
along the busy VanBuren Street
is a most unusual monument–
a monument of a homeless person
lying on a bench and
covered by a cement newspaper.

I wish that all of the money
that went into the making of this sculpture
would have gone to a soup kitchen.
I do wonder what the homeless residents
think of this statue in repose.
I find it inappropriate.

I do wish all the homeless people in Milwaukee
could find peace and shelter.
For what do they wish?

Does he wish to be out of the cold,
not on the streets growing too quickly too old?
Does she wish to be away from the dampness, out of the rain?
Does she wonder what else her life could contain?
Does he wish to be drunk or wish to be sober?
Does he sometimes wish his life were over?
Does she too often dream of a well-rounded meal?
Is she here and there tempted to steal?

Do you always wish for a better tomorrow?
Please let us know how we can lessen your sorrow,
how we can make one wish come true.

I heard you once played a saxophone,
then sold the instrument for a cellular phone.
Whom do you call when you are here all alone?

Be kind, stay well, and give me your wishes.

Bio: Celebrating thirty years of working with four amazing Leader Dogs, Alice Jane-Marie Massa created and distributed 150 posters, each of which features photos of her Leader Dogs and her poem “A Guide Dog's Prayer to Saint Francis of Assisi.” To view a photo of the full-color poster, visit Alice's author page: At the above website, you may also read more about Alice's book, The Christmas Carriage and Other Writings of the Holiday Season–a collection of her memoirs, short stories, poems, and essays.

Each week, you will find more of Alice's writings on her blog, initiated in 2013:

Staggered Breathing, Poetry Honorable Mention
by Sandra Streeter

Freight-bearing exercise-
Within atonal movement:
All seemed well, earlier-
Fugal passages, determinate rhythms,
We cannot begin to fathom
That Stravinsky will also
Resound tonight!

I have not fully learned
To read notation signaling
That these discordant lines
Do not apply to me:
He does not yet understand
My conviction that I am
Amongst those who wrote much dissonance-
Am I them?

Oh, Lord-I have made-and felt-
Such upheaval! Perhaps to wander off…
But for a long-ago and living promise
Of bilateral agreement
About taking separate paths.
Despite distance over water,
And not yet fully grasping
All the figures written here,
A kind of touch brings healing.

We set aside our scores,
In favor of a theme much simpler-
Decrescendo-to pianissimo;
Truth, by right, banishing
Soul-crushing distortion:
Making space to phrase, instead,
Love enduring… hoping… believing:
All that is good-and eternal.

Septic Gnomes, fiction
by Leonard Tuchyner

Sitting on my porch, overlooking the garden, I contemplated how beautiful the yard looked. The cabbages were better than ever I could remember them. Their leaves, wide and flawless, were beginning to build their centers. But I also experienced sadness, because they might never be allowed to mature. You see, the land on which they were planted was doomed to be dug up and decimated. All because the toilets wouldn't flush properly. It seems that my 43-year-old septic system is clogged and needs to be renovated. I had the dual feelings of joy and despair. Two emotions opposite to each other. Perhaps they were the tension which provided the impetus that caused me to suddenly become aware of a small gnome -like creature sitting next to me.

“Oh! I didn't realize you were there,” I exclaimed in shocked surprise.

“Yes, I'm here. Its good of you to recognize me. That rarely happens. Usually, I just sit there commiserating with someone who isn't even aware of my presence.”

“Who are you? What are you?” I stammered. I was quite taken aback by his sudden appearance. He was nothing I had ever seen before; only one foot tall, dressed in drab brown garb and a hat that one imagines when one imagines what a gnome might wear.

“You're surprised to see a fellow like me sitting next to you. Isn't that so? That's often the reaction I get. Don't worry about it. I'm used to it. You'll either run off into the house and have a drink, or we can have a chat. A boring chat. But perhaps you might learn a thing or two. I won't, because it will be just the same old discussion I always have with humans. I guess it's my lot in life, to sit here and have to explain myself every time I'm called upon.”

“But I didn't call you.” This fellow, whoever he was, wasted no time in being annoying.

“Yes, you did. You called me,” he insisted.

“I don't know what you are talking about. I never said a word. I was just sitting here minding my own business when you suddenly popped in, or something.”

“Ah, but what were you thinking and feeling? Answer that little question.”

“As I said, I was here minding my own business, thinking how beautiful the garden was and how sad it was that my cabbages might have to be dug up before they could reach maturity. I wasn't thinking at all about summoning a garden gnome.”

“I'm not a garden gnome. Sometimes I wish I was. But I'm not, I am not, I'm certainly not a garden gnome,” he insisted in a most belligerent way.

“I don't know a thing about garden gnomes or whatever kind of gnome you happen to be, if you are any kind of gnome, fairy or what have you.”

“Thank you, I'm definitely not a fairy. Although I have nothing against fairies. What kind of bigot are you anyway?”

“I'm not a bigot. I… Oh, never mind.”

“Just like a human. You call me to have a discussion and end up rejecting me.”

This conversation we were having was deteriorating by the second. I decided to indulge him. “Look, I'm sorry. Somehow, we got off on the wrong foot. Let's start over again. What kind of creature are you?”

“I'm a septic gnome.“


“What's the matter? Do you have trouble hearing? I'm a septic gnome. Is there anything wrong with that?”

It occurred to me that having an acerbic personality for a septic gnome might be one of their traits, and that I shouldn't respond to him in kind. Otherwise, this discussion wasn't going anywhere. So, I continued to humor him.

“Oh,” I said. “And what are some of the things that septic gnomes do?”

“You mean when we are not trying to educate stupid people like you?”

I gritted my teeth and then replied in the most pleasant way I could, “Yes.”

“I live in your septic system.”

“You live in my septic system!?”

“Don't act so disgusted. You're just like every other human. That disgusts you, doesn't it?”

“Ah… I, I suppose people have a right to live where they want to,” I said, not being able to think of anything better.

“But it disgusts you, right?”

“Well, yes,” I relented. “But that's because I don't know the good part of that story,” I said, lamely.

“Nice try.”

“Ah, how many of you are there down there?” I asked.

“As many as possible. It isn't enough. It doesn't seem credible to you. I know that because you are a simple-minded human who doesn't think in five dimensions. We can get thousands, even millions, of us down there. It's spacious. But in the end, it isn't enough. The system breaks down. We have to go elsewhere.”

“Elsewhere?” I asked, incredulously.

“There you go again. You can't imagine us wanting to go elsewhere other than your private sewer. We love living in a well-balanced system. But eventually, the best-balanced system can't persist for ever. Especially if you don't follow simple rules, that one would think you could manage with those big fat brains perched on top of your shoulders. You know, like emptying out your tank every seven years, not flushing Kleenex, or your wife's Kotex, or the bills
you don't want to pay.”

“I've never flushed down bills,” I protested.

“How about Kotex?” he asked.

“You'll have to ask my wife.”

“I wouldn't dare,” he said.

“What do you do down there besides produce other septic gnomes?” I asked.

“We TRY to keep it balanced. You don't make it easy We have specialists of every kind. We have more specialists than you can name. I wouldn't venture to describe how many specialists there are. Those fat heads you have would explode.”

I sat there dazed.

“Looks like I already over-burdened your measly intellect. Your scientists would call us the septic biomes. That's because that's the best they can do. Do I look like a biome to you?”

“I don't know what a biome looks like,” I complained.

“Exactly my point, dummy.”

“Will they have to build a new drain field?! I asked.

“How should I know? I just live here.”

Having said that, he disappeared.

Old dogs, New Tricks, nonfiction
by Elizabeth Fiorite

You know the saying concerning the inadvisability of attempting educational advancement with the elderly. Somewhere I read that it is good for your brain to learn to brush your teeth with your less dominant hand. It turns out to be a lot messier, and it takes a lot longer.

This experiment has prompted me to review other learned behaviors and beliefs. I needed to correct some things I had been taught earlier:

The Civil War did not end in 1865. It has never ended

Most people do not want to harm others. I have my doubts about 70 million or so who have drunk the Kool aid and wish to inflict a great deal of harm to people who hold differing beliefs. They have no real life understanding of words like democracy, truth, justice, forgiveness, mercy. (In that respect, maybe I am more like them than I realize).

More people have hearing problems now.

If a medical expert says, ”Wear a mask.” They hear, “I am taking away your freedom.”

When your doctor says, ”Avoid large gatherings.” They hear, ”The Government is infringing on my civil liberty.”

When the CDC says, “Get vaccinated.” They hear, “The Government is putting a chip in my body.”

To be fair, I can't bring myself to believe that millions of people are all members of the far-right hate group. Maybe I will try enlarging my circle and welcome the non-extremist who might just want some of the same things I do. Maybe we can talk about it. Maybe we can do some things together. And maybe I will try again to brush my teeth with my left hand.

Bio: Elizabeth Fiorite has been a Dominican Sister of Sinsinawa, Wisconsin, for over sixty years. Her first career was devoted to Catholic elementary education. After vision loss due to retinitis pigmentosa, her second career began as a social services counselor for the adult blind in Jacksonville, Florida. Since retiring in 2013, she has enjoyed participating in church projects, Justice and Peace activities, facilitating peer support groups, and “Women of Vision.”. Her art work has been displayed in the Cummer Museum, and her articles have appeared in Behind Our Eyes, Behind Our Eyes: A Second Look, The Braille Forum, and in the National Catholic Reporter.

Indigo Ink of Kindness, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

In this humid climate of Tears,
from this arid page that yearns for droplets of indigo ink,
my arthritic hands are arched
over uniform, mostly reliable keyboard
to explain these circumstances substantially to you.

When my throat is not as tightened
as a muscle stretched by 92,
when my deep and shrinking brown eyes are not filling with
turbulent tears,
when my heartbeat is not echoing
in my ears,
when I can avoid crying
aboard my ship of life and upon your shoulder,
when I can form the words
that must be captured with a butterfly net–
I will tell you the reasons for my
mistakes, misunderstandings, misfortune.
Meanwhile, allow me to be …
be kind;
and you also —
all you really need to know is:
be kind.
One kind word
may be enough to tip me over
into a telling mode
or allow me to hold a little longer
secrets that secrete and melt with each melancholy tear.

Kindness prompts
and wipes away
each poetic tear
into the indigo inkwell
from where all of my poetry

Voices of Hope, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Hope is wild horses racing against capture,
It’s a smoother road through the forest
Than that treacherous trail to despair,
It’s the only busy bee making honey
When flowers don’t come easy.

Hope awakens courage,
Boosts incentive,
Predicts achievement;
Hope anchors the soul;
There is no Winter in the land of hope.

Want good medicine against misery?
Hope offers uplifting music
To ease depression and grief;
It’s an inspired gift for friend or foe
When crisis looms.

Hope and faith reach for each other in the dark;
Tolerance, patience, and understanding depend on hope
With its arms wide open
And its lamp well lit;
Hope will be the first spark
And the last lingering light shining forward.

Seeking a positive mindset
While waiting for that decision, that challenge, that call?
Hope is the antidote to fear,
A caution through temptation;
Often, like necessity, the mother of invention.

Let your hopes, not your hurts, shape the future;
When you believe you’ve come to the end of your rope
Tie a strong knot in it,
Reach for hope and hold on tight!
Hope is “The Little Engine That Could,”
“I think I can,
“I believe I can,
“I know I can!
“Hope is on my side.”

The Day After Christmas, fiction
by Paul Martz

Six months without sunlight did little to help Mrs. Claus sleep. She'd been awake for hours at their wooden breakfast table when her husband emerged from their bedroom. His red woolen onesie stretched over his belly, fat and round, like the Santa ornaments the elves once made.

He joined her at the table as she filled his mug with coffee. If he could smell the bourbon she added to hers, he had never mentioned it.

“Good morning, sleepyhead. Did you sleep well?”

His jolly “ho-ho-ho” was more extended yawn than laughter. “Yes, Enya. Delivering those gifts really tuckered me out!”

He released a long breath that fluttered the hair in his beard, and when he spoke again, it was with his face lowered, as if addressing something submerged deep within his untouched coffee.

“I had the strangest dream, though. The North Pole had melted. Our Winter Wonderland had washed away. There hadn't been a Christmas in years. I only imagined I was delivering toys yesterday. It was all in my head!”

Quickly, she searched the table. There it was, by the cinnamon and spice-a snow globe, the gift she'd given him back when the first crack appeared in the polar icecap. She gave it a jiggle, and the snow inside glittered and swirled.

“Oh now, Santa. Don't you worry.” She swallowed and found her throat had suddenly gone dry. “Look out the window. Tell me what you see.”

He cleaned his bifocals with a napkin, put them back on, and squinted.

“Ah!” His eyes sparkled above his rosy cheeks. “Why, there's the reindeer, playing games by the light of the mid-winter moon. And the elves! Always hard at work. They're cleaning my sleigh, right there, next to the workshop. I can see it, Enya! Ho-ho-ho!”

But there weren't any reindeer, not anymore, and no elves either. They fled years ago, when the icecap broke apart. In the dark ocean that remained, seagulls fought over scraps of plastic, and the gas plumes of distant petroleum plants cast the horizon in a wan orange light. Wave after wave broke over their shrinking iceberg, each closer than the last. She saw all this, even with her eyes closed tightly at night, no matter how much bourbon she drank.

Their eyes met, hers damp with tears, and his old and confused. “You can see it, too. Can't you, Enya?”

For a moment, she could–the reindeer at play, the fir trees heavy with ornaments, and the glowing workshop on a bed of white–but it was only the North Pole in miniature. She gave the snow globe another jiggle, and the scene disappeared in a snowy blizzard.

Their winter wonderland still existed for Santa, that was the important thing, and it mattered not if it were the magic of the snow globe, or something else that made the delusion real for him.

She made a wish for one more Christmas. Maybe the magic would last.

Bio: Paul Martz is a science fiction author, technology blogger, and former punk rock drummer. His stories have appeared in the anthologies First Encounters and Wild: Uncivilized Tales. His ability to solve a tactile Rubik's Cube leaves audiences flabbergasted. Follow him at: and read his blind accessibility blogs at:

Seniorland, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Jeff Flodin

Nomadland is coming soon. I'll give you a sneak preview of the film. When I picture Nomadland, I see Frances McDormand walking across a desolate land. It's the same scene I see in the place I am now, the place I call Seniorland.

I qualify chronologically to live in Seniorland. I qualify functionally because I'm blind. In Seniorland, they are uniformly kind and caring. They talk about the grandkids. I don't have grandkids. In Seniorland, they sound like my parents, not like my generation. Does this make me an ageist? Steeped in denial? Fixated at adolescence? If I seek differences rather than similarities to make me feel superior, then I practice a dangerous habit…unless I simply don't care to have friends in Seniorland.

“People my age,” sings Neil Young, “they don't do the things I do.” I bet I'm the only senior in Seniorland who plays Pink Floyd LOUD through speakers that cost more than my first car. I walk marathon distance each week. I weigh what I did in college. I don't bake cookies. I don't sound old. People tell me I don't look old either. My friends say I don't act my age and neither do they.

What I share with seniors is loss. My wife, my brother and my mother-within the year. Mortality stares me in the face and, though I don't see it, it weighs on me. Is this how it will be from now on, loss upon loss? In Seniorland, they agonize over giving up their car keys. I gave up mine when I was 39. I'm 70 years old and I've lived half my life sighted and half my life blind and I say for a laugh, “Too bad the blind half's the half I'm in now.” Then laughter stops. Long and tortuous is sight diminishing to the vanishing point.

Here's what would help-if my wife or my brother or my mother were with me in Seniorland. But I can't make my well-being conditional, especially with conditions that never will come true. And, in Seniorland, we learn how few conditions ever will come true.

So…where do we go from here? Seniorland is not longitude or latitude or altitude. It is attitude. It is a state of mind and a place in time. I see myself falling into step alongside Frances McDormand. I take her arm and she guides me through her land and my land. The desolation becomes promise. We are a part of, not apart from. We talk of prepositions, of getting through rather than getting over. We speak of surviving. We speak of planting seeds. We practice gratitude. We endorse optimism. We sing. We share a laugh. We invoke The Serenity Prayer. We choose to take pleasure in the mundane. We do what we need to do to keep moving forward.

Bio: Jeff Flodin is the author of the blog, “Jalapenos in the Oatmeal: Digesting Vision Loss” ( He is the recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Creative Access Fellowship. His work has appeared in several publications. He is a Licensed Social Worker in the State of Illinois. He has been living with retinitis pigmentosa (RP) for three decades. He has recently relocated from Chicago to Colorado, where he lives with his guide dog and two cats.

Part VII. The Melting Pot

Goodbye Aric, poetry
by Leonard Tuchyner

You were a gift out of nowhere,
joining me in a trek through the woods,
when I most needed someone —
with barks that could crack a sidewalk —
courage that could stare down a bear.
You ran like a torrent crashing downstream.

How I lost you will never be known.
Did you know how long I cried for you?
You were there and then just disappeared.
I never knew what happened to you —
whether hit by a careless car
or stolen from the barren streets
to languish away in a sterile cage
and tortured in some laboratory.
Did someone take you for a pet,
not knowing a heart in anguish,
left empty and bereft by your loss?

Do you know I looked for you everywhere? —
in a black dog that looked like you?
Hell is to find and unfind so quickly.
My grieving seemed to last forever.
Even now I sometimes call your name.
I guess 40 years is enough.
You are long gone from this green earth.
So why do I persist in looking?

Eclipse, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

Change darkens resilience
with muted color,
brightness hidden.

How long will it be
till calamity subsides?
Unsure, we gather hopeful love,
folding ourselves in its strength.

Winterness, poetry Honorable Mention
by Brad Corallo

As I stand beneath the cold, distant January stars
from nowhere, an icy wind leaps up to bite my unprotected cheek,
I am possessed by a sorrow-tinged yearning.

Trapped in this dark, early winter night,
I can almost recreate deep inside
the gentle hand of spring's tender caress.

From this sharp poignant sting of memory,
I try to hold back the tears.
So long to wait!

Figuratively, I grasp myself with both hands:
breathe deeply of the crisp, clean frosty air
and turn gratefully,
passing through the door to light and warmth.

The Christmas Poet: A Wreatha Natale Holiday Story, #2, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Note: The character of Wreatha Natale first appeared on my “Wordwalk” blog on December 16, 2015, in the short story “A Sign of Peace at ‘Cocoa with the Clauses'” which was also later included in my book The Christmas Carriage and Other Wrightings of the Holiday Season (available on BARD as the audio download DBC 08305). As some of my readers will realize, this character’s name is a combination of the names of two postmaster friends of my mother (who was postmaster of the Blanford, Indiana, Post Office for more than twenty-eight years).

Although I initially thought I would write a Wreatha Natale story each Christmas, the journey to this second Wreatha Natale story took me four years to find my character again. During this holiday season, I hope you will enjoy reading more about Wreatha Natale.

Spanning ten city blocks and maintaining its status as the third largest rail terminal in the United States, Chicago’s Union Station was a whirlwind of noise and activity on December 17. Sitting quietly in the midst of the hubbub were retired teacher Wreatha Natale and her guide dog Wiggles. Douglas Fir–the man, not the tree–was kind to have taken the time to accompany them to this waiting area. “One half hour, and we will be back on the train,” she whispered to her Black Lab/Golden Retriever. Wiggles seemed eager for the short train ride home to Milwaukee.

As Wreatha took out a braille volume from her backpack, she realized that the man sitting next to her arose and walked away. Within a few seconds, someone else–much smaller–quickly occupied the empty spot. The sweet and gentle voice promptly began: “I hope you don’t mind my joining you and your guide dog. I have been watching the two of you, and I want to give you something.” When the rapid delivery of words stopped, Wreatha felt something atop her hands: a piece of paper had been rolled up and tied with a thin satin ribbon.

“Since you recognized my guide dog, you must understand that I do not read print: I read braille,” Ms. Natale explained.

“Oh, yes, but do you have a computer that converts print into speech or braille?”

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Good. Then, you can read my gift to you–a Christmas poem–when you arrive home. Each holiday season, I write Christmas poems and give them as gifts here at Union Station and other places. I want you to have this one. You will read it when you arrive home, won’t you?”

“Yes, dear, I promise I will read your poem. Thank you so much. I love poetry. Are you a student?”

“No, my voice sounds a bit younger than I am. I am twenty. May I help you to your train when it arrives?”

“Do you work at Union Station?” Of course, the young woman’s answer was negative: she just wanted to help Ms. Natale and her Leader Dog. Conversing with someone would pass the time more quickly for both individuals, but Wreatha determined that her new friend was not awaiting a train or any person. The young lady was merely at Union Station to give her poems to reluctant recipients, most of whom were not as fond of poetry as was her current recipient.

Since the young woman could not be urged to read aloud the poem to Wreatha Natale, due to the inappropriate atmosphere: reading the poem in a house with a Christmas tree was mandatory. Waiting to read the verses would, indeed heighten the anticipation and wonder–Christmas wonder.

As minutes passed, and the conversation continued, Ms. Natale did introduce herself and Wiggles; however, the young poet was respectful and knew not to disturb a guide dog in harness. Then, the poet shared that she had known a fellow high school student who was blind. Eventually, the youthful poet revealed that she had been in a foster home until she turned eighteen.

“I appreciated my foster parents; they were well-meaning people, but I never grew to love them. I had contentment, safety, lodging, but not a home. For a long while, I knew I would leave when I turned eighteen; and I knew that they would not dissuade me. They did not even try. For two years, I have been trying to move on, make something of my life.”

Finally, Wreatha had to ask the young girl her name. Her response was: “I am The Christmas Poet.” Despite a little prodding for a more conventional name–at least a first name–none was given.

“I have no idea who my parents are, what color they were. I do not know if they were together when I was born, nor if they liked poetry. I know nothing about them. I do not know who gave me my earlier name, so now I just go by the moniker ‘The Christmas Poet’ no matter what the season of the year is because I keep Christmas in my heart all through the year. Christmas is such a family time, warm and loving time: I try to hold onto it all through the twelve months of the year. I believe that through Christmas, I will find my way in life.”

Ms. Natale prided herself in being able to detect people who were not genuine: this young woman exuded only a delicate, fragile honesty. What would Douglas think of this young poet?

Checking her raised-dot watch, Ms. Natale said: “My train should be here any minute. I will return here for an appointment with Mr. Fir on December 23. I should arrive at 10:25 that morning. Can you meet me here? I would like for you to come with me to meet my … friend Mr. Fir. We are going to lunch–my favorite, high tea. I want you to join us. Will you?”

For a long minute, The Christmas Poet said nothing. At last, she smiled: “I will be here at ten o’clock on December 23: I like to be early.”

Ms. Natale reached for her backpack and put the braille volume inside; then, she pulled out a copy of her print manuscript. Handing the red folder to The Christmas Poet, Ms. Natale told her new friend: “Here is my little gift for you. Please read it before you meet me on the 23rd.”

The Christmas Poet was already silently reading the title page, but had to repeat the words aloud: “The Christmas Poet: A wreath of Holiday Verses, by Wreatha Natale.”

The Key to Freedom, fiction
by Marlene Mesot

As the television went to a commercial following the weather report, Patsy Sykes switched it off. The familiar chime of her husband Tim's ringtone sounded. She picked up her phone from the coffee table, but before she could say anything his frantic voice interrupted.

“Patsy, listen…need you…basement…know…you're afraid. …ember first…teen. Okay, but I…key, key in…box. It's…”

“Tim, you're breaking up.”

“Battery dy…must've…can't find…”

“Tim wait! Blizzard, Tim, did you hear me?”

Patsy lowered the device away from her ear to look at it. The screen had dimmed.

Should I try calling back? I know he's in the shed, his workshop. He knows I am afraid of the basement and he knows why. How could he ask me to go down there alone? He needs another key. Where was it, in what box. His precious tool shed! I told him not to get a self-locking door. Now he's trapped in his own mess! How can he ask me to…go there…to do that? What am I going to do now? Can I call the police? No, too drastic. I just have to go down there to find the key. It's not like it was that time, when I was little. She continued to pace.

I'll just have to do this, for Tim, my love. I have to go down there and find the stupid key he needs. Okay, phone charged. Get a flashlight in case…Yeah.

Patsy approached the dreaded basement door with her phone in her pocket and flashlight in hand. She glanced around the kitchen and stepped to the counter. Checking the time on the microwave, she turned off the crock pot where the aroma of her beef stew smelled tantalizing. Just in case something happens. She shook her head. Don't go there. You have to do this. Tim is trapped in the shed like you were…Don't remember then. Forget then! It won't happen again.

Patsy turned the door knob, then reached in to snap on the light switch. As she stepped onto the stairs she pulled the door so it just rested by the frame ajar, not closed, not locked, she checked. I'm in control, she reminded herself. She had the flashlight, her phone. There is no one else here, just me. It's Tim who is trapped…not me. Focus on what you need to do.

Once Patsy stepped onto the flat, cold cement floor she glanced back. There was a shaft of light visible under the door and around the side at the top of the steps. It was as she had left it. She knew the kitchen lay just beyond that door. Slowly she turned to survey the rest of the room. Her gaze went past the washer and dryer. She began to walk slowly toward the other side of the staircase where Tim's stuff was. There was the long wooden workbench he had built himself. Various tools were scattered on top as well as hanging on the peg board above it along the wall. But she didn't see a box. She moved closer to the bench.

Slowly patsy began to stoop down to look underneath. Periodically she glanced up to take in the more lighted portion of the still, silent room. The light wasn't reaching under the bench top very well. It was darker there, just like…

Patsy stood to try to chase the intruding memories away.

You are not trapped, she reminded herself. You haven't been forgotten about for hours. You have only been down here a few minutes.

She took in a deep breath and turned back to the darkened space under the long, wide bench.

What am I looking for? A key, a key in a box. What box? I don't see a box. What was he trying to tell me? Think.

She stood up and passed a hand across her forehead. Patsy shivered as she heard the wind outside. There is no heat in the shed, she realized. Tim must be cold. We're supposed to get a snowstorm with whiteout conditions. I have to find that blasted spare key. But where is it?

She pulled her cell phone from her pants pocket and hit speed dial.



“Can you hear me, Tim?”

Static crackled.

She sighed and disconnected.

Where is the stupid box, Tim? It's creepy down here alone.

Looking around again Patsy finally focused on the drawers on the left underside of the workbench. She began pulling them out and hastily rummaging through their contents. She had come to the bottom drawer, the tallest of the four, and it was stuck. She yanked, pulled, strained, but it didn't open.

Patsy walked away from the bench, around the staircase, to look back up the stairs. The thread of light from the kitchen around the door beckoned her like a lifeline. She felt an urge to flee back to the comfort of her warm kitchen, but she did not. She wasn't four years old now. She was an adult a married adult, with a husband. He was trapped.

Turning back to approach the bench area again, Patsy concentrated on the visible tools. Spying a small crowbar hanging on the peg board, she reached for it. She bent, set the teeth end under the bottom edge of the largest drawer and pried it a little. Then she pulled on the drawer handle. It began to budge. Slowly she was able to pull the heavy drawer open. Under some papers in the back corner she found a small metal rectangular box. She stood and set the box on top of the workbench to open it. Inside she found a myriad of small objects. After picking for a few seconds she pulled out a handful of nails, screws, washers, nuts, whatever and dumped it onto the wooden top. Another handful followed that. Turning back to the box something slightly larger caught her eye. She grasped the cold metal thing and pulled it from under more debris. Was this the key he needed? The light glanced off her wedding ring. It was the only key in the box.

Leaving the drawer open and asorted items scattered on the workbench, Patsy raced back around to the staircase and up, looking over her shoulder as she went.

Laying the key on the counter Patsy cupped her hands around the sides of her face to peer closely out the window above the sink. The ground was already white. Snow flew sideways as a gust of wind tossed it about. She went to put on her boots and winter parka. Spying Tim's boots still in the bedroom closet, she grabbed them also. Seconds later she came back into the bedroom for his gloves.

Hurrying back to the kitchen, she put the precious key in a zipper pocket, then put on her gloves and took the flashlight with her to walk outside to the shed Tim also called a workshop, where he stored the power and larger tools.

Patsy could barely make out the wooden structure of the shed as the blowing snow and wind pushed her back toward the house. Minutes seemed to stretch into hours as she trudged toward her goal. Finally, reaching the shed, she put one glove in her pocket to grasp the cold key. It fit into the lock, but would not turn. Making a fist with her other gloved hand, Patsy pounded on the door above the lock a couple of times. Come on. Is it stuck or frozen?

Finally the key began to move slightly. She kept twisting it back and forth as it gave a little at a time. When it turned fully she put a shoulder to the door and pushed. All questioned died as she saw the chilled figure before her.

“D…didn't ex…pp…pect this co…cold.” Tim chattered.

Tim was standing, shifting from foot to foot, shoulders hunched up by his neck, coat collar turned up, hands in the pockets of a light jacket.

“Here, put these on.” She handed him the boots and gloves. “We need to get you back inside the house where it's warm, for now anyway.”

Later they sat together on the sofa in front of the living room fireplace holding bowls of hot beef stew with cups of hot coffee on the coffee table. The power had gone out, but fortunately they had finished heating the stew beforehand.

“I'll go look for my key once this storm blows over. I dropped it and it must have fallen into a crack in the floorboards. I couldn't find it. That's why I had to send you down stairs. I really didn't want to ask you. I know how you feel about the basement.”

“Shhh. I did it. I knew I had to.”

“This stew is great. You know it was an accident, right? When you were little, I mean.”

“Well, yeah. I know my parents didn't deliberately lock me in the cellar. But I couldn't open the door. It was dark. And they just forgot about me. I was down there for hours. It seemed like hours anyway. I was so cold, and it was creepy. I felt like the walls were closing in…Please, let's not talk about it, okay?”

She set her empty bowl down on the low table and picked up her coffee. After a few minutes silence Patsy asked him. “What were you trying to tell me when your phone was breaking up? something about first and teen?”

Tim put an arm around her shoulder, holding his cup in the other hand. He had to think for a minute to piece together what the fragment meant.

“Oh. I was trying to say, remember First John four eighteen.”

She prompted. “Which is?“

Tim smiled. “There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear.”

Bio: Marlene Mesot, an only child, grandchild and niece from Manchester New Hampshire, and deceased husband Albert, have two sons, two grandchildren and English
Mastiff dogs. She is legally blind and moderately deaf due to nerve damage caused by premature birth. She has loved writing since early childhood. Marlene holds a Bachelor of Education degree from Keene State in Keene, New Hampshire and a Masters’ in Library and Information Studies from U-NC Greensboro, North Carolina.


Sneeze, Quantified, poetry
by Sandra Streeter

Mostly, people sneeze
In triplicate-
I wonder why!
What biology determines
That there should be only three,
When one is quite enough
(Just a Streeter opinion).

Adult allergies I
Never used to have
Make September and April morns
More exciting than I'd like…
I cite my Sesame Street enumeration:
“One… two… three… four… five…”
How many more?”

But, no Benadryl necessary:
Not even one-
Worse fates can happen,
So on with my day.
But I still wonder…
Wy in triplicate, for most?

The Closing Argument, poetry
by Elizabeth Fiorite

In the interest of time, your honor, let the record show
what the allegator alleges and what the jury must know.

The distinguished representatives from their great state of confusion
have grossly prevaricated, causing a grave delusion.

Heretofore and henceforth, let the facts be aptly presented.
Prevaricators and malcontents will be silenced or absented.

The burden of proof, your Honor, must disallow obfuscation,
the absence of truth is perjurious falsification.

The evidence presented is frivolous and base.
In summation, your Honor, I rest my case.

Cribbage Game, Pi, poetry
by Marlene Mesot

One two three,
Is not easy.
Write a Piem Pi Poem.

Cribbage is a mathematical
Card Game.
Using cards, pegs and board.
Rounds to thirty-one,

Then count hands.
It's impossible
To have a count of nineteen hand.

You want to score with counts of fifteen.
Also thirty-one counts two.

First play rounds to add to thirty-one.
Then count up
Your hand.
The Right Jack.
Count matches to fifteen and runs.

The Dancing Day of Robert Ramesbothom, fiction
by Winslow Parker

Robert Ramesbothom smiled as he opened his front door. Now Mr. Ramesbothom, you must know, rarely smiled. He was not a curmudgeon, not exactly, but near enough one could say that, perhaps, he was curmudgeonly. He never laughed, never sang, even in church, spoke no words not absolutely necessary. He wasn't unfriendly. He just wasn't friendly.

At his cobbler's bench, he was an artist. His stitches held and his boots wore well. Everyone for miles around said so. Between hammer strokes and needle stitches, he watched the parade of villagers pass his window. None waved or said “Good morning, Robert,” for they knew that his only response was a dour “Harumph.”

His bachelor life suited him, at least that's what he told himself. “Besides,” he muttered, “All the village women were either too old or too young.”

A new face appeared amongst the daily passersby. She was neither too old nor too young. She was just right. One morning she stopped at his open window and said “Good morning, Mr. Ramesbothom. My name is Elaine Pettigrew.” He nodded, keeping his eyes on his work. She left. His eyes followed her retreating back. The next day and the next and the next, she stopped, smiled, and said, “Good morning, Mr. Ramesbothom.” One morning, a month after her first encounter, as she repeated her usual greeting, he flicked his eyes to her face; just a tiny fraction of a glance. Her smile widened, a victory.

Mr. Ramesbothom didn't sleep well that night. He didn't sleep well the next, either. Her smile floated just within the boundaries of his dreams. As sleep exerted her claims over his mind, the image of her face, her smile, her eyes snatched him back to consciousness. His face became haggard. He yawned often and watched the street less, except for the time of her usual stroll. A tumult tumbled within him, day and night. “Do I dare?” “What if…” “when?” “How?” By now, he looked into her eyes when she greeted him.

One night, caught in the wrestlings of his mind, a switch flipped. Of course he did not know what a switch is, living, as he did, before switches were needed, but that is the best way to describe the suddenness of the change within him. One second he was worrying and wondering. The next he was certain. He smiled.

The next morning, he stepped into the street, wearing that uncharacteristic broad smile. He turned right into High Street. His boots raised dust puffs as he walked. “Good morning, Mrs. Crowley,” he said, smiling and bowing to the old woman. “Will you dance with me?” He held his hand out to her. She laughed and dropped her cane. He danced a slow, very slow, waltz with her.

“Thank you, young man, I've not danced in many years.” He handed her cane to her and tucked her other hand into the crook of his arm.

“Good morning Meggie,” he said to a little girl sitting on her stoop.

She giggled at his attention and said, “Good morning Mr. Ramesbothom.”

He bent, taking one hand, then her other. Raising her with swirling skirts and flying petticoats to rest on his shoulders. He danced a merry jig, hopping from foot to foot, bouncing her this way then that, until she squealed in joy.

The three of them encountered Squire Morgan.

“Do ye hear it?” Robert Ramesbothom asked the squire.

“What am I to hear?” the august gentleman asked face inscrutable as befits a true Scotsman.

“The pipes and drums of war of course.” Robert said as he lifted his feet high, bringing them down with a stomp. He began to twirl and swirl in the ancient war dance of the squire's clan.

Squire Morgan watched for a moment, then joined Robert in the barely-remembered dance. A cloud of dust rose as they stomped and tromped the terrible fury of war. Meggie shrieked and laughed holding on to Mr. Ramesbothom's ears for dear life. They stopped in unison, laughing and panting. The squire joined the parade, swinging and swaying as he went, hearing the unheard music of unseen bagpipe and fife and drum.

At the blacksmith's shop, Mr. Ramesbothom shouted, “Come, master smith, Come dance with us.”

His leather apron girt about him, the huge blacksmith came to the door. Seeing the dancing crowd, he joined in. “Come, Wife!” he called with a voice that bellowed as his bellows did when he needed a very hot fire. “Come, wife. Come and dance.”

His wife appeared at the door to their cottage, hands floured, mouth set to resist. A smile broke through, sun after rain. She reached high to his broad shoulders. He swung her high, petticoats flying, but modestly so, in the country dance they danced at their wedding. She shrieked in unmatronly glee.

Parson Watson opened the door of the parsonage, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Mrs. Crowley cried out to him, took his hand, pulled him into the melee.

“here, here! Parson, leave your dusty books, lofty thoughts and Sunday's sermon, come, dance with us.”

And he did, forgetting his usual parsonly demeanor, face alight as he left his high-church dignity and danced a folk dance remembered, in some obscure corner of memory, from his childhood.

Mr. Ramesbothom, topped with Meggie, danced his way into the proud back garden of widow Scroggs, imperious dowager of the village. She left her cutting shears and waltzed with him to her garden gate.

By now, nearly every soul in town had joined their laughing band. In twos and threes and sevens, they circled and snaked their way along High Street to the very last house just before the fields of ripening wheat.

Mr. Ramesbothom opened the gate, bounded up the three steps in one and knocked with a thunderous knock setting the window glass rattling in its sash.

“Miss Elaine Pettigrew,” he shouted as he banged. “Miss Pettigrew, Come dance with me.”

She peered through the glass of the door, frowned, smiled, laughed at the sight of the villagers dancing in her front garden. She opened the door.

Mr. Robert Ramesbothom bowed and said, “Miss Pettigrew, may I have this dance?”

Her cheeks bloomed a rosy red. “Why I thought you'd never ask,” she said as she lifted her hands to his.

He danced her in a sedate dance, with slow swirls, gentle twirls, and measured step into the midst of the crowd. He smiled down at her; eyes intense. He stopped dancing. Sensing portent, everyone stopped along with him.

“Miss Elaine Pettigrew,” he said, smiling into her eyes, “We have here a joyous crowd of well-wishers. We have here a parson. We have here you and we have here me. Will you honor me by marrying me?”

Her smile faded, became a firm line, two compressed lips, tight shut against word.

“I will, Robert Ramesbothom on two conditions,” she finally said, the grim line of her lips threatening to curve.

“And what may those two conditions be?”

“That you will smile this new-found smile of yours at least three times a day in my presence.”

“So noted. And the other?”

“that you dance with me every morning before breakfast and every evening after dinner.”

“Far too simple, your two conditions. I promise to smile all the day long and I covenant to dance our entire life with you.”

No one ever saw him without a smile on his face from that day on. Miss Elaine Pettigrew and Mr. Robert Ramesbothom walked with light step, as if dancing, everywhere and everywhen. To the time of their great-great-grandchildren, their anniversary was celebrated with feasting and dancing and laughter and joy by the entire village. Theirs is the happiest village in the land. It is so certified by the king's census taker. Everyone smiles all the time; everyone dances at the slightest provocation.

Part VIII. Slices of Life

Getting There Is Half the Fun, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

My friend, Sadie, is a skilled and intuitive sighted guide. Together, we navigate city streets and Rocky Mountain trails. We climb hills and descend stairs. We zigzag between tall trees and Costco shoppers. Last fall, Sadie guided me through City Hall corridors so I could register to vote. Yesterday, she offered me her arm to walk from the living room to the front door-in my own home.

I am blessed with friends like Sadie. They balance my needs for safety and self-reliance. They know they can say, “You might want to…” without me replying, “Mind your own business.” At other times, when other civilians admonish me to be careful, I want to snap, “Hey! You have no idea how careful I am, how careful I have to be every single minute of every single day!”

Why, then, do I keep walking into walls? Why do I furniture-walk, use area rugs as guard rails and light ten table lamps as beacons? Why, when flying solo, do I sidle rather than stride, assume the Frankenstein shuffle or mimic the untrained and flailing Helen Keller of The Miracle Worker?

The honest answer is that my eyesight is getting worse. And one obvious solution is to use my white cane within my home. Last year, as a stranger to these four walls, I used my cane to navigate around sharp angles and square corners. But as I grew accustomed to the place, the cane became one more thing not to lose track of, leave behind or trip over.

Rather than the white cane assuring safe haven at home, it leads me across that psychological frontier into dependence. I vacillate between accepting the reality of deeper darkness and demanding retribution from this soul-sucking disease. I alternately exert self-will to mold truth to fit my needs or face facts and find peace in surrender.

Blindness is hazardous to bodily integrity. I wear black and blue and red badges of conflicts with counter tops and cupboard doors. Cause and effect is an equation simple to learn and practice yet I remain incorrigibly myself and my self rationalizes, cuts corners and does what it wants. Look around-I've no yawning staircases to tumble down, no rearranged furniture to trip over. White cane? Maybe my yardstick will do for starters-'til I'm really sure I really need to use my white cane inside my own home.

I am seventy-one years old and I've been fighting RP half my life. Ten years in, I surrendered to white cane training. It helped me get around and told people what I didn't want to have to say out loud. Still, I fought, I bargained, I chose when and where to use the cane-dark places, strange places. Then, strolling to work at the hospital, along the avenue I'd walked full-time for years, I didn't see the freshly-dug trench and I stepped in and broke my ankle. I rose, removed my white cane from my back pocket and, using it as a crutch, hobbled across the street and into the Emergency Room. For weeks thereafter, I displayed my white cane-taped to my crutches.

Nowadays, I have my white cane, guide dog Tundra and friends like Sadie to protect me from the pitfalls of blindness. But who will protect me from my own foolish pride and ruinous ego? When will I ever learn?

Discoveries in My 60's, nonfiction
by Kathleen King

They've only just begun!

In my early 60's, I rediscovered something long ago forgotten. As my sight had been damaged, and my career was shut down, I reached back to music.

I rediscovered a love of the soothing melodies, harmonies and rhythms. Somehow, although I played violin for 25 years, guitar for 15, sax for 4 and interspersed piano, and accordion, I never considered myself a musician.

And I had set it all aside during my academic career.

Then, I stumbled across a dulcimer and breathed in the sweet Joni Mitchell and Judy Collins songs I heard wafting from my brother's room as he played the haunting sounds of this slender stringed hourglass.

The sweet memories urged me to explore dulcimer gatherings in Florida. I was able to use a large iPad and digital sheet music to play along, even though only in basic forms.

Then came the move to Tennessee.

I landed in the dulcimer heartland of the Appalachian mountains purely because of medical and family reasons.

I dream of when it becomes safe to sojourn again.

I hope I'll master playing by ear, because now the music's printed notes elude me.

And I'll return to the music in a new way – without much vision. – Needing to feel more with my ears and play with my heart.
The mountain music floating on dreams of the haunting tunes through memories of my brother now gone. But even in my 60's, the discoveries, they've just begun.

Night War of the Mind, poetry
by Brad Corallo

The explosions and
rising, billowing smoke expand,
from tiny atonal rhythmic pulses
to fill my mind with clamorous strife.

The flash-bang grenades,
the Hell Fire missiles
seek their targets.
I cannot sleep
as the war rages on.
I get up and try
to be somewhere else.
I crawl, silent and furtive
through rooms of shattered mirrors
which only lead back
to what I am fleeing from,
and tare me with their jagged shards.

The turmoil and all the noise
have reduced me to shameless floods of tears.
In desperation I cling to broken memories.
from ruins of the past, unspeakable!

How have I strayed so far?
Only to reach this perfect position
where violent solar eruptions
rain down from every direction.
They burn and blacken
but don't incinerate.
Though such would be a mercy!

If I wait it out
and manage even a little sleep
I can indulge a fragile belief

I will stride purposefully through the ash heaps Of morning.
And, with One act of compassion
silence the violent chaos
of one more consuming night,
that has passed and gone.

In its place,
precarious peace balances on
the honed edge of a tactical knife.
At least for some bless'd,
unknown space in time.

Dog Gone, nonfiction
by Shawn Jacobson

Now what do I do? I ask myself as I clutch the empty dog collar.

Well, I tell myself, you might as well take it off the lead.

I disconnect the empty collar from the suddenly useless lead. I'd put Bailey, one of our two dogs, on the lead to keep her in the backyard; she wasn't on it anymore.

What next? I ask myself.

I answer myself, don't panic.

Instead, I start searching with the assumption—OK, it's a hope that Bailey is still in the yard. I go up the hill at the back of our property to where Bailey likes to watch for squirrels. No Bailey. I then look over the fence we'd augmented with chicken wire to make the yard escape-proof. No Bailey. I then check the area between our fence and that of our neighbor—we call it the “man trap”—that we'd enclosed after her first escape. No Bailey.

“Bailey,” I call hoping for a response; I am answered by silence.

OK, what's next? I ask myself; I seem to be asking myself a lot of questions today.

I decide on two courses of action. First, I will call Claudia, who's boys stay with us on occasion, to send one of them to our place to get another set of eyes—or at least eyes better than mine on the problem. Second, I will visit the neighbor lady four houses down. Said neighbor has a backyard which Bailey visited the first time the “man trap” failed. I walk back into our house. After checking my shoes—you always watch where you step in our backyard—I head out to search for our wayward mutt.

The first time that Bailey escaped the “man trap”, we'd roamed the area around our house calling her name and hoping she'd respond. The neighbor saw us and asked if this was our dog. My wife said “yes” and, taking the leash from me, handed it to the neighbor who got Bailey leashed up for us. Since then, that neighbor has been our first stop when Bailey successfully exercises her will to roam the neighborhood. I suspect that Bailey was drawn there by the chicken coop, with three birds, that the neighbor keeps and by a desire for food more primal than the kibble we feed her.

“Can I help you?” the lady asks.

“Have you seen our dog?” I ask.

“Go ahead and look in our backyard,” the neighbor lady says.

I go around to the gate for the backyard and wait for the neighbor to unlock it. Presently, the lady opens the gate.

“Bailey's not here,” she says.

I thank her and head back to the house trying to think. What is my next move?

As I return, I keep calling “Bailey” and I keep getting silence in reply. I remember a similar trudge the last time Bailey got out. On that afternoon, we'd gone to see the neighbor. The neighbor lady thought she'd seen Bailey in her backyard. However, when we'd checked, we found that Bailey had flown
that coop as well getting out as inexplicably as she'd gotten in. The one difference is that my wife, who can see, was with me. This time, I'm on my own.

It is not that I can't see at all. I have some eyesight, but not enough to do with my eyes what the truly sighted can. I can follow sidewalks to places I remember; however, finding a black dog against the background of a green lawn is more of a challenge.

I stop back at the house and realize that the dog collar would be more useful if I had a leash that would allow me to actually lead the dog. Get it together I tell myself, then don't panic. Armed with something I can use to make Bailey return home with me, I head down the block hoping against hope that I can find our crazy runaway dog.

Then, across the way, I hear the sounds of dogs barking, or, maybe, dogs playing.

I wonder if Bailey has found new canine friends. This seems a shaky hope, but then I have no better one. Besides, the sounds are coming from around the block in the general vicinity of where we found Bailey the last time she got loose.

I jog down to the corner and turn right. As I ascend the side street, a lady asks, “Is that your dog?”

“Black with white feet?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says as I draw near. Suddenly, I'm filled with a more substantial hope than I'd had before.

And there she is, playing with the neighbor's dog. We disengage her from her new playmate. Then, I get the collar back around her neck and start nudging her homeward.

As I lead her home, I remind myself that I'm not safe yet. She could still slip her collar as she'd done before. So, it is with great care that I get her around the corner and head for home. I keep a close watch on Bailey as she sniffs and does other dog things. Finally, we get home and I get her in the door. Looking at my watch, I realize that my lunch hour is just ending; and I wonder how all of this happened in such a short time.

Later, we will see Bailey on her hind legs pulling a wooden dowl out with her teeth. We will replace the dowls with metal braces in another attempt to reinforce the yard. I will hum “Fulsome Prison Blues” as I hand braces to my son Stephen and watch as he reinforces the fence.

Bailey should know that she can't be free, but she just won't be convinced. So, we will continue to be on guard whenever she goes out in the yard. We will keep reinforcing the fencing against Bailey's endless inventiveness in the service of her freedom. And we may yet have to go on forays into the neighborhood to find her when she gets loose.

Yet, for now Bailey is safely in our house. And I feel good about the situation. I managed to find her, something I doubted I could do. And I reminded myself that sight is not the only sense that can aid in the search for our dog. Hearing can also serve a purpose. And I have learned that keeping some sense of calm is useful. There is wisdom in the phrase “don't panic.”

As I head downstairs to my home office, I hear Bailey whining to be released.

“No Bailey,” I say. “You've just been out.”

The Red Stuff, memoir
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

For six years, despite my limited vision, I cared for my late husband Bill, who was totally blind and suffered two strokes that paralyzed his left side soon after we were married. Bill was so finicky that mealtime was often a nightmare because he didn't always want to eat what I wanted to fix. So, I had to scramble to find a substitute for him while still enjoying what I wanted to eat.

One year at Christmas, my singing group performed at an apartment complex for senior citizens. After we sang, we were invited to eat with the residents. Because I needed to get home and prepare supper for Bill and me, I reluctantly declined. The cook, whom Bill and I knew, offered to send me home with food for both of us. I agreed, grateful I wouldn't have to fix anything.

“Okay, honey,” I said, in our kitchen later, as I set a plate of food in front of him at the table. “There's a pork chop on the right that I've cut up. In front of you is stuffing, and that red stuff at the top on the left-hand side I'm pretty sure is cranberry sauce.”

A moment later, I realized I'd mistakenly identified the red concoction when Bill said, “Ooh, these beets are horrible!”

“I'm sorry,” I said. It was all I could do to keep from laughing. “I guess I should have sniffed them first. I assumed it was cranberry sauce.”

“Well, you know what happens when you assume, don't you?”

“Yes.” I sighed. “I'm sorry.”

He laughed. I laughed.

Needless to say, I ate a second helping of beets, which I like and don't eat often. To this day, I've never learned not to assume anything.

My Favorite Day, poetry
by Lauren Kaduce

It's April 27 now.
Thank gosh I haven't cried.
If I break that commitment,
I will be mortified.

So, as I try to prevent this,
I'll have some funny fun.
With all the fun things in the school,
Until my break is done.

I'll play with a sensory toy
That contains shells and sand.
I'll watch a good ol' orchestra
With a singing rubber band.

I'll ride the bike around the gym,
And converse with my friends.
I'll take a ball and shoot some hoops
Until the gym class ends.

I'll tap my pencil on the desk,
And play with a toy chain.
I'll put together easy puzzles,
Or ones that use the brain.

I'll spin around the hallways,
Until I get too dizzy.
But then I transition to work,
On Edmentum I get busy!

Bio: Lauren was born on September 10, 2005. She was Diagnosed with autism in November of 2007 at the age of two. She didn't speak until around the age of three. Lauren has had many special interests and sensory issues throughout life. Sometimes she seeks stimulation by hand flapping and pacing. Her favorite day was August 27 but in 2018 her great grandma passed away. She cried on that day. Now her favorite day is April 27th. The unpredictability of COVID-19 has been a challenge for Lauren. She wrote the COVID poem to help other kids understand issues of COVID-19 better.

COVID-19, poetry
by Lauren Kaduce

Right now there is a new disease.
It's called COVID, if you please.
Life has since turned upside-down,
But wear a smile, not a frown.

I'll explain this virus so,
You lose your fear because you know,
That your life will be okay.
Even on your favorite day.

When in public, wear a mask,
Even though it's a tough task.
Practice social distancing.
Pretend you're in a 6-foot ring.

Whenever possible, stay home.
Resist the temptation to roam.
Should you happen to get sick,
Your bed is the spot you should pick.

Cover your cough and your sneeze.
Practice so it will be a breeze.
Socialize with friends online.
See if they are doing fine.

This pandemic will not last forever,
As technicians are very clever.
In creating a brand-new shot.
So COVID ends, just like we plot.

Alone with Myself, poetry
by Carol Farnsworth

Morning sun broke over a sparkle filled woods.
Carrying my poles and skis, I searched for a place to sit.
A long-fallen trunk offered a purchase.
Jamming my poles into the drift, I slipped on one ski then the other.
I stood with the help of the poles, ready to push off.
The rhythm of the skis gliding made a soft swish in the quiet of the day.
My mind was free to ponder as long trained muscles took up the remembered cadence of moving.
I saw the low hanging branch and swerved to the right.
Snow and ice crackled underfoot as I crested the rise.
Tucking my poles under my arms, I raced down the hill to the pond.
The clear, smooth surface called to me.
I turned away fearing I would break through.
Instead, I rested to let my breathing slow and listen to the sound of my pulse in my ears.
Worried thinking vanished as I joined nature awakening to the sunrise.
I breathed long gulps of chilly air.
Renewed in body, mind and spirit.

Tundra Explores the Frozen Tundra, nonfiction
by Jeff Flodin

The blizzard was forecast to hit Saturday. When it didn't, skeptics said the forecasters got it wrong. When the blizzard hit Sunday, forecasters said the skeptics got it wrong. But everyone agreed it was a bona fide blizzard: sideways snow, whistling wind and less-than-zero visibility. The snow and wind came courtesy of Mother Nature; I contributed low visibility.

Sunday into Monday, the blizzard raged. We hunkered around the fireplace. We ate comfort food, warm comfort food. Tundra the guide dog required occasional relief outdoors. Neither man nor beast became unleashed, lost their way or blew away.

Tuesday dawned ghostly white and silent. Tundra and I ventured into the back forty to assess the terrain. Beyond our covered patio lies eighty-eight square feet of fenced, grassy lawn we call Tundra's Happy Acre. Using my fifty-eight-inch white cane, I determined The snowdrift atop Tundra's Happy Acre stood sixty-six inches, thirty inches above the top of the fence. In human terms, I was up to my neck in snow.

Tundra celebrated her winter wonderland by climbing the snowdrift and slaloming down the opposite slope into unfenced freedom. I heard her romp and roll, snort and cavort while I shoveled the top foot or so from the snowdrift layer cake. I felt the warmth of the sun and heard water trickle through the downspout. Then things got quiet-too quiet. “Tundra,” I called. “Tundra,” I called, louder this time.

“She's over here,” shouted my neighbor to the west. “And now she's heading next door. She's visiting we shut-ins.”

“Good for Little Miss Sunshine,” I yelled back. “but now's not the time to make house calls. Tundra! Tundra, come!”

“Oh, hi Tundra,” said my neighbor's neighbor. “So kind of you to drop by…but I think your daddy wants you home.”

Eventually, out of curiosity or obedience, Tundra reversed her escape route, ascended the backyard snowdrift and paused at its summit to observe her domain-Queen of the Yukon.

“TUNDRA…GET…INSIDE…THIS…HOUSE…RIGHT…NOW” I snarled and, sensing consequences, or lunch, she complied.

As I dug into a hot mug of leftover Crock Pot Creation #34, Frosty the Snowman tromped across the roof, leapt and landed atop Tundra's Happy Acre snowdrift. I stared straight ahead and stirred my soup, calculating that, as twenty-four inches of blizzard snow covering a one hundred sixty square-foot patio rooftop slides bit by bit onto Tundra's Happy Acre, she'll keep smiling with the gift that keeps on giving while I keep shoveling the leftovers of this Daylight Savings Sunday blizzard…'til the Fourth of July.

This literary magazine is produced by Behind Our Eyes, Inc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities.