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Fall/Winter 2022-2023 Edition of Magnets and Ladders

Magnets and Ladders
Active Voices of Writers with Disabilities
Fall/Winter 2022/2023

Editorial and Technical Staff

  • Coordinating Editor: Mary-Jo Lord
  • Fiction: Kate Chamberlin, Abbie Johnson Taylor, Winslow Parker, and Marilyn Brandt Smith
  • Nonfiction: John W. Smith, Kate Chamberlin, Marilyn Brandt Smith, and Brad Corallo
  • Poetry: Abbie Johnson Taylor, Leonard Tuchyner, Brad Corallo, lisa Busch, 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


The Fall/Winter edition of Magnets and Ladders is packed with stories, poems, articles and exciting news.

The Perkins Library for the Blind has been recording issues of Magnets and Ladders for several years. In 2017, these recordings became available on cartridge to patrons of The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled. For many of our readers, the Perkins recording of each edition of Magnets and Ladders is their only access to the magazine. Other readers may enjoy the pleasure of hearing the stories and poems performed by the Perkins narrators after reading the magazine online. Earlier this fall, we were given permission by Perkins to upload mp3 files of magazine recordings. Backissues starting with the Spring/Summer 2019 edition of Magnets and Ladders are available now at Please check back often, as we anticipate adding more backissues soon.

Many Behind Our Eyes members are regular contributors to the weekly online and print quarterly editions of The Avocet. Be sure to read “The Writers' Climb” to find out about a special surprise from the Behind Our Eyes members and The Avocet.

If you enjoyed the book reviews that were featured in “the Bonnie Blose Memorial Book Review” section of the Spring/Summer edition, be sure to check out “The Bookshelf.”

The Fall/Winter 2022/2023 edition of Magnets and Ladders is the first edition that we are welcoming a guest judge for one of our contests. Behind Our Eyes Vice President Carol Farnsworth made a recommendation and chaired a committee to start this initiative. Our first guest judge is B. T. Kimbrough. B. T. was the judge for the fiction contest and he will also be with us for the Spring/Summer edition. He comes to us with an extensive background in editing and disability services

Ever since he moved to the Chicago suburbs in the 1970s to go to work for DIALOGUE, B. T. Kimbrough has been a teller of other people’s stories. DIALOGUE was less than ten years old when Kimbrough joined the staff, and he was involved in helping to shape many of the sections such as Careers and Fiction, which were to become lasting parts of the publication’s identity. He was also deeply involved in helping to develop the magazine’s groundbreaking work to foster and encourage the work of previously unpublished writers.

Blinded by a household accident at the age of nine months, Kimbrough learned Braille at the school for the blind in his home town of Louisville, Kentucky, then went on to graduate from a public high school in 1960, and earn Bachelor's and Master's Degrees in music from the University of Louisville. Volunteer work as a part-time radio announcer for the University led him into professional radio and newspaper work, as well as his lasting connection with magazine publishing.

He’s always been fascinated with technology, both the up side and the down, and that fascination led him to stop telling other people’s stories for a time and become part of the story himself. In the 1980s, he managed Braille and Technology services at a Philadelphia nonprofit. Later he went to work for the braille embosser maker Enabling Technologies, where he served as Vice-president in the 1990s. In 2007 he returned to DIALOGUE, first as Executive Director, and then as Editor from 2010 till his retirement in 2019. Having moved back to Louisville with his wife Paula, Kimbrough is now active in a local theatrical group called Imagine Blind Players. He is also working on a project that aims to place all the content of DIALOGUE‘s 57-year publication run online so that the public can freely access this amazing literary legacy. At the moment, the website offers free access to a number of samples from the last ten years of DIALOGUE, including the five-part history of the publication Kimbrough wrote in 2012 to mark the 50th year of DIALOGUE.

I would like to give a big thanks to all of the committee members, B. T. Kimbrough, 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, along with the grand prize fiction and nonfiction book review winners. There were many great submissions as a result, we had a tie for one of the Honorable Mention positions in the nonfiction category. Below are the Magnets and Ladders Fall/Winter2022/2023 contest winners.

  • Fiction:

  • First Place: “Five Hundred Candles” by Nicole Massey

  • Second Place: “A First Date” by Bill Tope
  • Honorable Mention: “Move Over Boomer” by Greg Pruitt
  • Honorable Mention: “To Kiss a Frog” by Winslow Parker

  • Nonfiction:

  • First Place: “Are you Nancy Scott?” by Nancy Scott

  • Second Place: “Survival Braille” by Kate Chamberlin
  • Honorable Mention: “Learning to Communicate as an Autistic” by Joe Wang
  • Honorable Mention: “Imagine” by Marcia J. Wick
  • Honorable Mention:” Descent into Joy” by Shawn Jacobson

  • Poetry:

  • First Place: “House” by Valerie Moreno

  • Second Place: “Front Yard Sketch” by Ria Meade
  • Honorable Mention: “Night Terror” by Sandra Streeter
  • Honorable Mention: “Goodbye” by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

Congratulations to all of the contest winners.

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

Part I. Not What I Expected

Five Hundred Candles, fiction First Place
by Nicole Massey

Linda knelt at the altar in the church, praying. Others looked at her as she counted upward, despair growing in her voice as the numbers got higher and higher. She was in the low three hundreds when a dove cooed and she stopped, nodded, and stood.

At the dispensary she said, “I need to purchase 335 candles please.”

The nun working the dispensary didn't look surprised. “Only 335 this time, dear?”

“Yes, that's all.”

The nun crossed herself. “Blessed is our merciful Lord.” She counted out the candles, double checking the full box to make sure it held the 300 it claimed. Linda paid her, hoisted her purchase on her shoulder, and headed out to the smaller altar used for candles for specific people.

Lighting and placing the candles took time. She placed them between those for other people, planning the locations so she'd have room for the others she'd place in the next few minutes. As she worked she fell into a trance.

Her daily prayer and candle vigil wasn't always the focus of her life. Two years back her life was so different she seemed like another person. Vibrant. Alive. Passionate. Then one night at Club 3000 her world changed. An unbalanced member of the local mega-church came in wearing full body armor and a hockey mask, opened fire in the club with a modified semi-automatic rifle, and finished with a parting shot – two shrapnel grenades, homemade jobs full of nails and other hardware. The shooter got away, but survivors of the vile assault heard him say, (everyone who heard the cry said the shooter sounded male) “Salvation is a hard job, but we're up to the task.” This was the mega-church's motto.

Of course the pastors of Faith United Temple of Christ denied any connection with the death of 67 young people at the club. That didn't keep them from making snide comments about a club that didn't discriminate based on gender identity. And pulpit calls for the responsible party to clear their souls and reaffirm their intent to walk in Christ's footsteps by coming forward for absolution got no response. So Linda had to act on her own.

He was known as “The Magus” in the local alternative faith community. Many warned her about him, but a few said he could take care of her problem if she was willing to meet his demands. Nobody else had any other suggestions, so she sought him out.

Yes, he was bald, and faint stubble made it clear he worked to be that way. He also had the van dyke beard you'd expect. But he wasn't tall, muscular, or powerful; he was short, skinny, and looked like he couldn't win a fight with a 9-year-old girl. But as far as Linda could tell he knew his stuff.

He stroked his beard.

Linda wondered if this was something compulsory or if it was required to get the proper pointy shape to the chin whiskers.

“Yes, I can summon a spirit that'll seek out your murderer. But it's not a subtle being, so there'll be collateral damage.”

Linda didn't understand. “What do you mean?”

“The entity I summon and unleash will not only take your murderer, but any at hand who've got any darkness in their heart. The strictures of the old testament are not given to interpretation, at least from the old spirits.”

“Okay, so other bad people will die too?”

“Yes, though they might be supposedly free from retribution under New Testament codes.”

“Oh. What will this cost me?”

“From me, nothing. I lost two close friends at Club 3000 that night. However, Christ will have his due, and you must satisfy Him.”

“Why me? Don't you have some responsibility, too?”

“I will be the conduit, you'll be the prosecutor.”

“I don't understand.”

“I'll summon the entity, but you'll have to tell it why it's been summoned and what the murderer has done.”

Linda set her jaw. “Okay, so I'll have to do something to appease Jesus? Bring it on, and if it's something I can do, I'll do it. I lost both my partners thanks to the murdering bastard.”

“So you want me to summon an entity that'll bring justice on the heads and hearts of the transgressors? I will ask you this three times.”

“Yes.” She repeated her answer twice more.

“Come back early Sunday morning. Do not dress in loose clothing, anything that will billow or get blown across the border of the protection circle you'll be in. Since your hair is long put it up carefully. Purchase nine white candles, standard tapers. Bring a bottle of good wine, a burgundy or other red. I'll provide everything else. And the murderer will pay.”

She extended her right hand. “We have a deal.”

She spent time on selecting the wine. She wanted something with a good reputation, but not too expensive. Something told her a cheap red wouldn't be good enough to get the best results. She also paid the extra cost for beeswax candles.

Sitting inside a circle of chalk and arcane symbols was a great way to develop leg cramps or have one of them fall asleep, as Linda found out. The “working,” as The Magus called it, took time and it was too early on a Sunday morning for Linda. But bringing Hector and Rachel's killer to justice was important enough for her to make the sacrifice.

The Magus seemed to be getting louder the more he chanted, well past the point where she could believe it was what the bony guy could muster. So something was happening. The candles also looked like they were in a nasty windstorm, dancing every which way, but none of them went out.

Linda expected some sort of demon, black and scaled or with skin that shone like oil, slitted eyes and huge claws and bat wings. So it surprised her when the shape of a man appeared, but with huge feathered wings. There was something glowing near the center, too. The Magus spoke in some other tongue, something that sounded sort of like Latin, but one word came through loud and clear – “Michael!” The form resolved into a dark-haired angel wearing blue and holding a glowing sword. In a heavy masculine rumble, the archangel said in clear English, “Who calls on me? State your name and purpose.”

The Magus looked at Linda. It was her turn.

“I am Linda Sue Hampton. Four weeks ago yesterday someone associated with Faith United Temple of Christ came into Club 3000 and killed 67 people, including both my partners, and wounded an additional forty-three. I ask for justice. The identity of the shooter is unknown.”

The Archangel Michael raised his sword. “It shall be done.” In a bright flash he disappeared.

The Magus said, “You can get up now. Go home, sleep. And watch the news. Then come back and I'll tell you how to deal with the collateral damage.”

Linda woke up and found the news of 501 deaths at the main service of Faith United Temple of Christ. The police were looking for the source of the fire that raced through the congregation, taking down some while the people on both sides were unharmed. Four of the pastoral staff died along with some prominent community leaders. The congregation was shaken as ten percent of the folks in attendance died by fire. Several commentators talked about how this was the true meaning of decimation, not the more common use that makes the word synonymous with annihilation.

Linda returned, in emotional shock, to The Magus's home.

Before she could say anything he said, “I told you this would result in a lot more deaths than you thought it would.”

Linda said, “I had no idea.”

“Of course not. I was a bit surprised myself. But you have to do what you can to make all of this good with Christ. Go to St. Andrew's downtown. Go to the altar and pray for guidance. Count upward, and you'll get a sign when you've reached how many of the souls Michael took are redeemable. Light a candle for each one.”

Linda nodded, glad she could do something to redeem the destruction. Okay, I can do that.” But her heart fell as The Magus said, “Every day.”

“Every day?”

“Yes, until every one of them is redeemed.”

“Okay. You summoned him, what are you going to do?”

“I summoned him for you. You sent him on his task. I'll tidy up some of the loose ends, but you have to make this right with the Savior.”

Linda counted as she lit the candles. “Three hundred and thirty-three. Three hundred and thirty-four.” She took out the last candle, lit it, and said, “I ask Jesus Christ to redeem these three hundred and thirty-five souls from Michael's wrath.” She lit the last candle, put the box by a recycling bin, and left the cathedral. She'd be back the next day, and the day after that. In two years' time the number shrank by 165, so if it remained consistent maybe she would be done with this in a bit more than four more years. Her daily vigil drove home the truth of actions having consequences. And she'd never unleash something like this again without finding out all the specifics.

The nun working the dispensary came in behind Linda. She watched the troubled woman walking down the street to the bus stop. From inside her habit she brought out another candle. She lit it, looked at Linda waiting at the bus stop, and said, “Bless you, my child. May you know peace.” She returned to her job, the light of all those candles bright in the darkened cathedral.

Bio: Nicole Massey is a writer, composer, and songwriter, a lifelong Dallasite, and sixth generation Texan. Her degree in music was earned from the University of Texas system. She lost her sight in 2003; if you find it, she’d like to have it back. Nicole doesn’t drink coffee or wear t-shirts and sweats. This may make her an atypical writer and musician.

She can be reached at:
She’s not on Instagram, TikTok, or Twitter, but her website has occasional updates and writing on it. The real finds there are the subscription buttons for her newsletter and mailing list.

Violin, fiction
by Leonard Tuchyner

I was lovingly fashioned by my master craftsman. He had not made a name for himself, for he was young. I remember how his coughing started. At first it came as a constant clearing of his throat. Then it gradually grew into a severe cough, which soon was accompanied by specks of blood.

His name was Myron Humbleton. He was gaining skill, and I thought he had reached a level of mastery that was close to being as good as anybody's in the world by the time he started to make me. I know, because only the best violins have a soul. You can hear it when a master plays one. I knew I would have one, before I was fully formed. That's how I know he was a master. But it looked like I would never be finished.

Myron was not married. He had no family, having lost them all in a war. He grew up in poverty and had only a modicum of training. For the most part, he was self-taught, putting all his resources into his beloved craft. Getting the best woods, tools, glues, and everything necessary to fashion a quality instrument was his one desire. This goal was even more important than his welfare and health. Consequently, his body was failing at a very early age.

“God,” he prayed, “please allow me to finish my masterpiece. That is all I ask from you. And if you fail me, I'll make a pact with the Devil.”

God seemed not to have answered his prayer. Myron was deteriorating rapidly, and it seemed he would die before I was completed. One day, after a spasm of bloody coughing, I heard him talking to a presence. It was an evil presence, like a singular cloud continually given to lightning strikes which made no noise but exuded colored flashes, all of impossible hues.

“Did you call?” the presence asked. His voice was that of a businessman.

“Y, Y, Yes,” was the quivering answer that came from Myron.

“Don't tell me–,” his sarcastic voice told Myron. “You want to make a trade.”

“Yes. I know it's not much of a trade. My soul has been cursed since the day I was born. Giving it to you will cost me nothing.”

“If it is worth nothing to you, then you cannot expect much of a deal. What do you want from me in return for your worthless soul?”

“Allow me to finish my violin. It will have value. Nothing else that issues from me does. Perhaps that will make my life worth something.”

“This is an arrangement that potentially has a few loopholes, which I must cover in writing the pact.”

“Whatever you wish, I'll agree to. However, I, too, want to cover some loopholes.”

“Such as?”

“When my violin is finished, I must have a guarantee that it will last at least two thousand years.”

“No problem. But you just assure me that you will work on it at least ten hours a day. Otherwise, you might take forever.”


“I'll throw in good health while you work on it. You'll need it.”

“Very well,” Myron acceded.

“Acceptable. Now sign here on the dotted line in blood.”

Instantaneously, Myron's complexion turned from grey to a ruddy, healthy color. His breathing became clear, and vitality entered, for the first time, into his life. For the remainder of his corporeal being, everything went his way. The resources for completing or going back to redo his work on me were at his fingertips. The best of varnishes, glues, woods, and tools seemed to appear from nowhere. Myron's feverish desperation to finish his work was now a joyous activity. I could feel myself coming together. My strings were the very best, as were the pegs and bridge. My bow was the last piece of artistry. The horse hairs to coax out a vibration in my strings were the finest.

Finally came the finishing touches, which required Myron to play and listen for flaws. He found them and spent time in making alterations. When finished, it was the moment of truth. I was cradled on his shoulder, and I sang. I could feel him pouring his soul into me, and I cried, laughed, shouted as the process proceeded. It was then that I became aware that I was truly alive. Myron played for four hours without stopping. Folk songs and operatic arias filled my voice.

Reluctantly, he stopped. All that he had was poured into me. There came a knocking on his door.

“Come in, Mr. Lucifer. I'm ready to go with you.”

The Devil walked in, then looked expectantly at Myron. Then his expression changed to confusion, followed by anger.

“What did you do with your soul?”

“It is in the violin.”

“Did you seek to break your contract with me by putting it in your violin?”

“I couldn't help myself. I have always poured my soul into my work. This violin is the only instrument that can hold it.”

“I'll just take it with me into hell,” said Satan.

“If you do, it will break. Then you will have nothing out of the contract.”

Lucifer's anger then quickly turned to laughter. He looked at Myron with admiration. “But you have not had the last laugh. I will still own your soul, even if it is in your accursed instrument. You cannot die, for you have no soul to give me or God or anyone. You are cursed to roam the world carrying your creation. Only when you play it will you be truly alive. When you play it, know you are playing for me. I gift you for your almost outwitting me.”

“What is that?” Myron asked.

A violin case appeared in his hand and the Devil laid it at Myron's feet with a bow of appreciation, ending in a flash of Hell fire into which he disappeared.

If you hear a far-off sound of a violin playing, or a sweet summer breeze or the crashing of a sea, perhaps it is me singing for the Devil.

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 First Date, fiction Second Place
by Bill Tope

Hayley sat silently on the sofa in her living room; a shiny brass pole lamp scattered illumination over the four walls and the television was on but muted. The colorful figures on the television danced in confusion in reflections on the linoleum floor. Hayley was slender, almost petite; she had raven black hair and attractive features: a pretty face, bright blue eyes and an old-fashioned rosy complexion. But her eyes were clouded. She sat quietly, still as a statue, except for her hands, which twitched furiously, Hayley had just turned forty and had had Parkinson's Disease for the past twenty years.

She continued sitting because standing and walking was such an unwelcome adventure, frequently resulting in missteps, staggering collisions with the furniture or walls, even falls. At length, the telephone rang–the land line, not the cell she kept at hand–and she was forced to get up off the sofa. As she rose, her head swam, she saw little white spots in front of her and she teetered on her feet. She was unalarmed, for the dizziness often came and went.

The phone rang again. She hurried a little, struggled to put one foot unsteadily before the other. She brought her cane into play. The telephone continued to bleat.

It was like walking through deep water, thought Hayley, as she reeled and staggered to the telephone table. It was always worse when she had been sitting or reclining for a while. Reaching a trembling hand out, she grasped the phone just as it stopped ringing. She put the receiver to her ear and listened intently. She spoke hello into dead air, frowned, and slammed down the phone. She glanced at the Caller I.D. screen and scowled. No number or message appeared.

Another hallucination! she thought bitterly. She’d cancel the land line, except she never knew when her cell might lose power or malfunction and she needed a reliable connection to emergency services. She’d have to get an extension wire in order to place the phone nearer the sofa. She sighed. The hallucinations were a new addition to her condition. The tremors and difficulty in standing and walking was one thing, but the delusions were something else again. She couldn’t trust what she heard, what she saw.

Suddenly Hayley glanced at her cell, noted the time “I’ve got to get going,” she murmured aloud. “I’ve got a date, and that doesn’t happen every night!”

Indeed it didn’t. Hayley hadn’t dated regularly in ten years, ever since her disease began worsening. The half dozen dates she’d had over the last couple years or so didn’t count, she decided. They had all been unspeakable disasters, blind dates set up by friends or family. They clearly hadn’t been expecting the cane or the hand tremors or the clumsiness. Oh, they were nice enough guys, just not prepared for a woman with disabilities. She sighed, shook her head at the disappointing memories.

This time, however, she had covered all the bases: she used a computer dating service that catered to clients with “special circumstances,” such as age or, in her own case, a disability. She had listed Parkinson’s on her app and been contacted by a man about her age, who also had the disease. The man–Roger–had had the condition, he said, for about nine years. Not as long as she, but then, Parkinson’s progressed at different rates in different people; at any rate, he could at least relate to her situation, surely. They’d settled on dinner at a moderately priced restaurant and they would go “Dutch.” That suited her right down to the ground; this last year had been difficult. The loneliness was often discomfiting, sometimes simply overwhelming.

Oh, Hayley had girl friends, but they couldn’t really relate to her situation; they were all married or dating in serious relationships. They were always trying to set her up, but the few resultant dates had been unmitigated disasters. She resolved to just hope for the best. Roger had sounded nice on the telephone.

Two Hours Later

Hayley arrived at the restaurant a little early, so she wouldn’t make a spectacle of herself walking in and stumbling into a chair. In spite of Roger’s similar affliction, she felt almost helplessly self-conscious around other people. She shooed the waitress away, telling her she was waiting for someone.

Her date! She felt curiously giddy. Hayley watched the other patrons, all dressed fairly casually: sport jackets and blazars and off-the-rack outfits.

The men all looked handsome and the women were pretty as well. It was a young crowd. They stood at the bar talking and sipping drinks, lurid concoctions with umbrellas for the women and shots of some amber liquid–whiskey?–for most of the men. She noticed pointedly that as they all drew their drinks to their lips, not a hand shook. Hayley placed her own hands in her lap, out of sight.

At length, Roger walked in, not self-conscious at all, thought Hayley. He was standing straight, walking smoothly and as he got nearer she noticed that his hands didn’t shake at all. What was his secret, she wondered. He looked just as handsome as his computer image had been. Blond hair, tall, around six one, nothing extra around his middle. He was rather nattily attired, keeping with the unofficial dress code. She met his eyes and smiled. She really was very pretty, she told herself, and Roger seemed to pick up on that right away.

“Hi, Hayley, how are you?” He offered his hand.

She reluctantly pulled her own hand from her lap and clasped his hand in a firm grip. “I’m fine, Roger, how are you?”

He seated himself opposite her. “I’m good; it’s nice to finally meet you–in person, I mean,” he returned, then fixing his eyes on her glass, asked, “What are you drinking?”

“Just water,” she answered, taking a sip.

“Well,” he said in a jolly voice “we’ll have to change that.” He signaled for the waitress. When she turned up, he said, “Scotch and water; Hayley?” he turned to her.

“I’m fine,” she said.

“Oh, c’mon, don’t make me drink alone,” he said persuasively.

“Well, Seven-Up,” she said.

“Make it a Seagram’s Seven,” he added.

“No, Roger, I don’t want any alcohol.” Turning to the bewildered waitress, she corrected, “Just a plain Seven-Up.” The waitress hurried off. Hayley looked up; Roger was staring at her blankly. “My medication,” she explained. “I can’t have any alcohol with my medicine.”

“Oh,” he said, genuinely surprised. “None at all?” he asked her, incredulous.

Silently she shook her head no. The waitress returned with their drinks. “Don’t you take any medication?” It was her turn to be surprised.

Roger took a heavy slug of his scotch before shaking his head and saying, “Nope. Nothing.”

“How do you manage that?” Hayley wanted to know. “You seem so…normal. Look at that,” she indicated the hand holding his drink, which he was fast polishing off. “You don’t have a tremor at all!”

Roger raised a finger at the waitress, pointed at his now empty glass. He waited until the waitress returned with his new drink before replying, “Well, the truth, Hayley, is that I don’t have Parkinson’s Disease at all.” He took another big gulp of his scotch.

Hayley blinked, utterly surprised. “You mean…you mean you’re not sick at all?”

Roger frowned. “You make it sound like that’s a bad thing,” he complained.

“But…why did you say you did? What was the point of that?” While Hayley had been speaking, Roger had silently ordered yet another drink and was half way through it already. Hayley observed that Roger wasn’t nearly as attractive as he’d been when he first arrived. Perhaps the alcohol was revealing his true self. And he was thoroughly in his cups now, obviously something of a lightweight.

“Answer me,” she said sharply, surprising even herself.

“Well,” he replied, slurring his words a little, “I figured I take one of them disabled chicks, I might get lucky, you know,” he grinned lecherously. Hayley’s stomach roiled. “I mean,” he said more expansively, his voice rising, “you get a girl who’s got something wrong with her, that don’t get around much, maybe doesn’t get much action.” He winked grotesquely, and ordered still another drink.

How many drinks could he hold? wondered Hayley. Already he seemed drunk. Hayley was feeling a little ill herself now. Their waitress appeared again, asked if they were ready to order. “I…I’m not hungry,” said Hayley, waving her hand at the girl.

“Well, I am,” insisted Roger, pushing away the menu. “I want a big steak, rare, baked potato, sour cream, and asparagus!” he demanded. The waitress turned back to Hayley.

“Nothing for me,” she murmured. The waitress withdrew.

“One other thing, Hayley,” said Roger, slurring his words anew. “Can you…you know,” he pointed at the table, made a circling motion with his finger. “Take care of this?” She stared at him blankly. “I’m a little short,” he explained.

She regarded him coolly, then said, “I’m not interested in your sexual inadequacies. But pay for your own meal; you drank it, you pay for it!” And with that she was on her feet, headed for the door.

Roger, chagrinned, called after her, “I would have made it worth your while!”

Hayley turned back only long enough to reply, “I doubt that; I really, really do.” She continued toward the exit, her cane accidentally knocking against a diner’s chair.

“If I knew how bad you were, I never would have taken you out!” Roger shouted at her back.

She made her way through the exit, out to an available taxi, where a man was just getting in. He halted, looked her way. “Hayley?” he said. She stopped, surprised. It was Mr. Beasley, a man who lived in her building.

“Hi, Mr. Beasley,” she managed, clearly upset.

“Do you want to share a taxi?” he asked.

“Uh…sure. Thanks.” They both climbed in.

Mr. Beasley gave the driver the address and they sped away. She sat slumped in her seat. Beasley looked over and said, “Are you alright, Hayley?” She shook her head no. “You want to talk about it?”

She took a shuddering breath. “I just had the most awful date I’ve had…in years,” she exclaimed. He nodded encouragingly. “I met him online,at a dating service. It was a site where if you have a disability, they hook you up with someone similar…you know, my Parkinson’s. I have Parkinson’s.”

“Yes,” he said. “I thought you did.”

They hadn’t talked much, he’d lived for years on the floor above her. He was at least fifteen years older than Hayley and she hadn’t given much thought to him before. She glanced at him, noticed that his hand shook a little and his head darted to the left, then to the right. It wasn’t really pronounced, but noticeable. “You…you don’t have it too, do you, Mr. Beasley?” she asked hesitantly. “Oh, you don’t have to answer me if you’d rather not,” she hurried on.

“No, it’s alright. No, my own cross to bear is Tourette’s Syndrome; you’ve heard of it?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, of course. I didn’t know you had it, though.”

“Usually it’s controlled by medication; this is one of my ‘unfortunate days,’ however.” Hayley nodded.

“What happened inside?” Beasley asked.

She rolled her eyes. “My ‘date’ was some predator who pretended he was disabled, just to prey on women he thought would be easy.” She went on to describe the scene inside the restaurant. “How about you?” she asked him.

“Just on my way home from work,” he replied.

They rode in companionable silence for a few moments. He’s not at all unattractive, she thought. And she knew he lived alone. Maybe he’s gay, she thought. Not that that would make him a bad person, but as far as boyfriend material, it would be a little limiting. Still, he had always seemed very nice.

“Well, did you at least get a decent meal out of it?” Beasley asked.

She frowned. “No. I was so mad that I walked out without even eating.”

“Well, you know, I’m pretty hungry right now myself.” She looked across the seat at him. “And I’m a pretty good cook,” he continued with a smile. She smiled back at him. “And call me Ron, won’t you Hayley?”

A First Date was originally published in Wordgathering: Volume 15, Issue 4 – Winter 2021.

Bio: Bill Tope is a retired public assistance caseworker. He presently lives in Illinois with his mean little cat, Baby. He has been published in Rattapallax; Children, Churches sand Daddies,* and assorted other fiction journals. He has had Tourette's Syndrome for over 45 years and Parkinson's Disease for more than 20.

Fighting Fire, fiction
by Nicole Massey

The inside of the car is cold, too cold, but he prefers it that way. I can feel the heat of the sun on the windows, so I lean against them and try to fight off the frozen air coming out of the vents. This drive is a metaphor for our relationship – he gets what he wants and I don't get what I need in deference to him. Why haven't I walked already? I know what's going on with us, and I know how toxic it is for me, but I can't step away. Maybe I've bought into some of his gaslighting.

I run over the words I can't say to keep him from going off. Bully. Narcissist. Controller. Selfish. Self-centered. Non-empathetic. Antisocial, along with its former terms of sociopath and psychopath. The list goes on and on. Is this a way he has of silencing me? It works.

He speaks, and it shocks me a bit, because we've been silent for hours. “I'm sure you're wondering where we're going.”

No, I know where we're going, down into a deeper and deeper pit of dysfunction and poison. I have to say something. “I figure if you want me to know you'll tell me.” I can play meek, because I don't want to get yelled at, denigrated, or hit.

“I'm sorry…” No, he's never been sorry once in the time I've known him, so that's a word he uses to apply to other people or to manipulate. “… but I don't know how to make our relationship better. You always want everything your way and you won't compromise.” Ah, the sound of projection, Freud got some things right on the money. I remain silent. He waits for about five miles and says, “So, do you have anything to say?”

“No. I don't want to get into a fight.”

“You always do this, putting everything off on me.”

Well yeah, that would be because he drives our entire relationship. Nothing I do is good enough, or right, or smart, or whatever else he throws into the tearing down of my heart and soul. I say nothing.

He pulls off the highway onto a side road. “I was hoping it wouldn't have to come to this. Our relationship has become problematic. Inconvenient.”

Interesting choice of words. Relationship. He doesn't ever say marriage. I'm not sure why, maybe because if he admits we're a married couple he has to face that it's a partnership, while a relationship could be anything. And inconvenient. That's a danger word. One of the ones I've been watching for. Now he's said it. Things shift, move into place, the rules change and so much falls away.

“So you feel I'm inconvenient? Okay, what are you going to do about it?”

“What I have to.” He turns onto a dirt road. I see a glistening pond or lake up ahead. I think of the tactical elements to the situation. Where's he hiding the weapon he'll use? What plans does he have for disposing the body?

I say, “I'd like it if you run down the steps of what you're going to do.”

“Why? It doesn't matter.”

“It matters to me.”

He sighs, a dramatic gesture to attempt to gain sympathy for his beleaguered plight. I love how his use of one word shut off all of my filters about his behavior. “You always liked bodies of water.”

“Ah, so one of them will be my final resting place?” I'm not upset, but he's never considered my feelings, so he's not seeing the warning signs.

“That's a cold way to put it.”

“Okay, and how will I die? Bullet? Strangulation? Drowning?”

“I brought your pills.”

“I understand. How will you explain it?”

“You ran off. I don't know where you are. We'll trace your phone and find it here.”

I suppress a smile, though I'd like to laugh in his face. “Okay, and you expect me to go along with this?”

For the first time he pauses. “You're going to fight me on this? You can't win.”

“I'm not ready to die, I have things to do.” He pulls off to a picnic area. He laughs. “You? All you do is sponge off me.” He stops the car, turns it off, and gets out. “Come along, I'll make it painless.”

I say nothing, getting out of the car. As he comes around the front toward me, sure his greater size will keep me in line, I say, “I won't. This is going to hurt for the rest of your life.”

I pull the Colt Defender out of the pancake holster at my back, aim, and fire the first shot into his left kneecap. Before he falls I've shot him in the other one.

“Any last words? I have several for you. Bully. Narcissist.” I run down the list. “I was waiting for you to reveal yourself as far worse. You've met my expectations.”

He tries to grab me, but the duct tape I hid under my seat does a fine job of binding his wrists. I fish his phone out of my pocket. I open it, smiling at his lack of a PIN, and log into his various banks. It takes seconds to transfer all his wealth to my offshore accounts. I have to duct tape his mouth shut because I get tired of the stream of abuse. I have a lot of work to get him into the trunk. I'm careful, so I get out the water jug I keep in the car and fill it four times to wash away the blood spilled from his knees.

Back at the house I manage, after a long time and a lot of struggle as he fights me, to tie him to the two-wheeled dolly in the garage. I deposit him in his den, the ridiculous television set to a sports channel, and do a fast survey. I identify a few things that need to go to collections or museums – he always had a thing for art, though it was price and not any artistic value that drove him. Everything about image.

I drive the car down the long curving path away from the house. He's gotten his hands free, but I fix that and yank the duct tape off his mouth. I wait until he runs out of insults and verbal attacks.

I say, “You'd be amazed at how much explosive someone can buy if they're careful. You'd be even more amazed at how much a resourceful person can make on their own. And it'd stun you to know how many places in a big house there are to stash explosives where nobody can find them. I'm going to give you the same courtesy you planned for me. I'm going to stay here and watch you till the bitter end. But there's one thing you're not going to like. You like it so cold. It's going to get real hot.”

I take the detonator out of my pocket. He cries “No!” sort of in imitation of Darth Vader, but not as pained, because he doesn't know what pain is. I go deaf as the explosions tear apart the house. Fire rages everywhere, turning to white hot heat the moment it touches me, and he screams over and over again. The soul deep comfort of the flames elevates me, transports me, and I scream too, my voice that of a bird most people think is only a myth. In the melting glass behind his wet bar I see myself, glowing in bright blue flame, my clothes and hair and ink melting away. I feel the puddles of my earrings dripping down my earlobes. My skin tightens up, and in the last moments of the mirrors before they turn to slag I see the years burning off me.
He's gone, his skin roasting away. I check to make sure our phones are useless, and walk through the inferno I created. In a tree far enough to be out of the blast radius I reach into its hollow trunk and pull out the metal box I put there long ago. Sandals, underwear, sweat pants, and a t-shirt are all I need. I feel for my earring holes, but they've burned away too. I walk down to the car, covering the seat with plastic and putting on latex gloves. They stick a bit to my hands from the remaining heat. I plug in the charger for the burner phone and wait for it to light up. I send a text. Done. On way to meeting site. Stuff to give away.

I get a two-word reply. Welcome Back.

I drive to a reasonable drop point where others of my kind can remove things and dump the car somewhere. I won't be needing it. Of course I feel so much more alive. I'm young again. I'm a child of the Phoenix. And it feels so nice, for a while, to not feel the cold.

Night Terror, poetry Honorable Mention
by Sandra Streeter

It must have been about 2:00
That late autumn night.
A strange and eerie, raucous voicing,
Through open windows came,
As I occupied my writing chamber.

An ascending, dog-like, lurid cry
Probably a block away-
Wounded fox? I surmised,
Listening for the next few minutes,
After which it stopped its freaky sounding.

Half a year beyond, I read
In “Ghost Rider” of the author waking
To the call of a spooky nighttime presence;
Turning on the light,
Discovering a flying creature,
Staring at him with foreboding,
Through a hotel window pane.

Later, in a birding guide,
He found its name:
The short-eared owl,
Which bore the superstition
Of portending death
To the one who laid eyes on it.

Of course, I then had to YouTube that crazy owl!
What was the first sound that came to my ear?
That lurid nocturnal barking
That so transfixed me months before!

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 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. Lighter pursuits include serious crocheting, and conversing in “meow” with her beloved 11-year-old tuxedo girl, Emily, who is pleased as punch that she gets included in some of Sandra's verse.

The Wrong Suitcase Confrontation, fiction
by Marlene Mesot

After several bumps and jolts, the plane finally landed. Between the harrowing, hurried business trip and the turbulence on the return trip, my decision to leave the corporate life and find something quieter, with less stress was cemented. I tried to sleep on the flight home. That was a joke! I was so exhausted I didn't think anything could wake me. Boy was I wrong. Granted, we had to fly through a thunderstorm and I'm sure the pilots did their best to keep things under control. I shook my head dizzily remembering. At least we made it back safely. Thank God! I sighed as I entered the large baggage claim area. Surely nothing else could go wrong now.

It all started again when I looked for my suitcase. Even though my feet stood firmly on the ground in the airport terminal, my stomach resumed the turbulence it had experienced in the air, when I saw the two suitcases that appeared side by side on the luggage carrousel. Both had a smooth pattern around and down the handled portion, with a plaid pattern on the front and back. Even the initials on both were M.J.W. But I had only one suitcase, not two. Which one? Making a quick decision, I grabbed both and set them on the carpet at my feet. I just guessed, picked up one, and turned to walk slowly away, looking around as I walked.

Third time's a…disaster, I thought. What more could happen to convince me my future needed to be changed for my own sake.

“Hey! That's my bag…Mister. Stop!”

I turned to see a short, petite woman in a business suit, heels, short hair and a leering expression on her smooth face.

“Sorry.” I set down the suitcase immediately.

She pointed. “My initials.”

I nodded. “Mine too.”

Glancing backward, she moved to the other bag bringing it to us.

I ran my hand through my thick brown hair searching for something polite to say. Finally I began. “What are the chances both of us would have similar bags and initials?”

She huffed a sigh and put her hands on her hips. After a short silence she asked, “Is that a pick up-line, Mister?”

Hurriedly I shook my head. “Look. I'm truly sorry I got the wrong bag. I was just so surprised when I saw the two side by side and they are very similar.”

“Clearly,” she pointed again, “mine is blue plaid while yours is green.”

I mumbled apologetically. “Sorry, ma'am, I'm colorblind.”

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.
Visit her website at:

Death at 70, fiction
by Winslow Parker

The first deaths were noted at midnight, November 5. Marge Swensen, Filippa Henderson, Jenna Crayhurst and Melissa Tong were working the 11 to 7 shift at Shady Cove nursing home. Marge, the aide in charge, noting the time said, “OK girls, break's over. Time to do the midnight rounds.” Marge was always conscientious. The other three groaned, tossed their snack wrappers into the wastebasket and rose. Each walked to the first room on their assigned wing of the facility. Almost immediately, all four returned to the nurse's station.

“Mrs. Torkelson is dead,” announced Filippa. “So's Mr. Henderson,” Jenna reported. “And Mr. Leopoldo.” “and Mrs. Baxter,” chimed in the other two aides.

“Can't be,” said Marge. “Four at once? Were they alive when you made first rounds an hour ago?” The other three nodded.

“I'll call Mrs. Franklin,” she decided. “She's the RN on duty. Each of you, check the med record against the order to make sure we didn't make any mistakes then continue your rounds so we can report when she gets here.”

They cross-checked each other's med records. The records were correct and the number of pills in each blister pack tallied exactly with the physician orders.

When the three aides returned, their faces were white. Jenna trembled visibly.

“We checked every room and your wing as well,” said Melissa. “Everyone's dead. Except John,” added Filippa, “the quad in 322.”

“This is terrifying,” whimpered Jenna.

“Ain't it, though,” agreed Marge who, though she had seen more than her share of death, she was still shaken.

Mrs. Franklin arrived and made her own rounds of each room confirming the aide's story.

“I'm not sure what to do,” she said, shaking her head. “It's not in the policy manual. I checked.”

“Better call the administrator,” suggested Marge.

Mrs. Franklin called the administrator. He arrived, hair sleep-tousled, dressed in sweat pants and tee shirt with “Ride the Wind” emblazoned across the front.

“You're sure?”

“Yes, I checked every patient twice.”

He drummed his fingers on his desk. “Something is amiss, I would say.”

“Understatement of the year,” mumbled Mrs. Franklin under her breath.

“Do you think there is foul play?” he asked.

“Don't think so. They were all alive at eleven.” Marge said.


“All triple checked and in order.” Mrs. Franklin replied

“He sighed. Nothing to do but call the police.”

Detective Fitzgerald sat behind the administrator's desk, drumming his fingers in almost the same rhythm as the administrator.

“You say that everyone was alive at eleven?”

“Yes,” answered Marge. “We do hourly checks and all was well then.” He questioned each team member separately. Their stories jibed.

He dialed a number. “Bill we have 79 bodies…No, not a mass shooting. It's at Shady Cove nursing home. All but one is dead. No, staff appears to be uninvolved. How soon can you get here?”

Within an hour, ambulances lined up to transport the dead. The morgue filled and passed its capacity.

Detective Fitzgerald flipped through each patient's chart, looking for commonality and for the reason of the single exception.

“Here it is,” he said. “John Mason is thirty-nine, quadriplegic due to a motorcycle accident. Every other person is 70 or older.” They named the phenomenon the “Fitzgerald Effect” after him.

In the meantime, in other nursing homes, retirement homes and assisted living centers, every person, age seventy or older, was found dead. As the day dawned, family members and friends found their loved ones in the same state. City after city began reporting the dire news. Shady cove was on the US west coast. Hours later, Japan, the Philippines, Korea and China began experiencing the same event. Everyone over 70 died at midnight, over six-hundred million people.

Hundreds of autopsies were performed. Not one revealed anything of significance. Mortuaries were overwhelmed. Crematoria carried out their grisly task with multiple bodies at a time. Graveyards could not keep up, even though gravediggers worked around the clock. Eventually the danger of infection grew so large officials declared that, from then on, the dead would either be buried in mass graves or burned on vast funeral pyres.

Over time, humanity resigned itself to death at age seventy; the new norm

Every nursing home, retirement home, foster home and assisted living center closed immediately, laying off thousands of workers. Hospital and clinics were next. The pharmaceutical companies began to hemorrhage money, their balance sheets turning from black to red. All the services which catered to the elderly, once such a profitable industry, closed their doors.

The stock market crashed, losing eighty percent of its value in two weeks. The homes of older people flooded the market, forcing down home prices to 1980 levels. Social Security checks stopped immediately. Bank deposits plummeted. Cars and homes were repossessed from those who no longer worried about their credit scores. Homelessness doubled, quadrupled then redoubled again. Squatters invaded empty homes, set up vast tent cities and wandered aimlessly from coast to coast, seeking work or just a meal.

Grocery stores, convenience stores, online shopping outlets failed or saw a huge slump in profits. Restaurants closed their doors. Families began closing IRAs and annuities, collecting their inheritances. Mutual funds failed, pushing stocks even lower. Savings accounts and CDs were closed, pushing the banks close to bankruptcy. The Federal Reserve was indecisive, not knowing whether to raise or lower interest rates. Congress sat on its collective haunches, a great number of their members among the dead. The entire Supreme Court was gone and the incumbent president was 68 years old in his first year of office. His vice president was gone as was the Speaker of the house.

The Fitzgerald Effect continues to this day without explanation. He along with Marge, Jenna, Filippa and Melissa are famous. They have appears singly and as a group on countless talk shows, describing their experience being the first to discover the effect. Mrs. Franklin wasn't quite so lucky. She runs a not-for-profit thrift shop which pays less than half of what she used to make. The economy is in shambles. The only comfort is that all nations are in the same boat. There are signs of recovery, after thirteen years, but it is a vastly different new normal than earth experienced prior to that fateful night.

Each year, as family and friends turn sixty-nine, a year of morning is declared. Social security was reinstated to the maximum amount for the only year of retirement. No one has escaped the grim reaper's scythe, not one.

The one bright spot amidst all the gloom is that everyone knows when they will die.

Bio: Winslow lives in Portland with his wife of 50 years which continues to amaze him with her loyal tenacity over such a long time. He is
retired from the Oregon State Commission for the Blind where he taught adaptive technology for 18 years. He has also tried his hand at hospital chaplaincy, pastoring, teaching third grade, being a social worker and mental health therapist. He spends his time writing short stories, essays, Christian spiritual devotionals and whatever else pops into his disjointed and easily-distracted brain.

Marooned, fiction
by Leonard Tuchyner

The seas had gone crazy. I was sailing when all of a sudden, the skies got dark and a cyclonic wind from the east was blowing me out to the deep ocean. This was tornado season, but nothing unusual had been reported on the radio, before I went for what was supposed to be a sail that was to last a few hours.

I tried to head for land, but the wind was too strong for sailing in my fourteen-foot little boat. I dropped the sails as quick as I could before they were ripped or I capsized. Then the calm came, and I knew I was in the middle of a rather large tornado. I sat there wondering which direction the wind would be coming from when the eye passed. The skies were black all around, except for that spot I found myself in. It only lasted about five minutes before the winds hit me from the west. The waves became as high as buildings, and one of them was really steep. The sailboat tried to climb it but was tossed over like a child's paper plaything. I found myself in the drink, with my craft turned upside down and sinking. Luckily, I was wearing a life vest.

The waters tossed me around, until they suddenly stopped. I looked in every direction and saw no sign of land. The Sun was just rising from the horizon. That was crazy, because it was mid-morning when I was swallowed up by the waterspout. How could Sol be just rising? Also, there was no sign of seagoing vessels. That was strange. I seemed to be marooned in a strange world, definitely not one I had known. I appeared to be drifting to the south. That didn't make sense either. If the gulf stream was anywhere nearby, which it should have been, I'd be drifting north.

The day passed to night, and I thought I was a goner. There was no water except salt. The water was not as briny as I thought it should be. But still too salty to drink. Nevertheless, at dawn I sighted land. It appeared to be a large island. An island could be my salvation. So, I struck out for it.

It took me an hour to reach the land. Just in time to keep the current from sweeping me past the land into the unknown waters.

The island turned out to be a treasure trove of things essential. There was fresh water everywhere. The island, originally volcanic, had an ancient peak which once must have been a central volcano with a regular caldera. But presently, it was filled in by whatever vegetation would grow very high. From there, fresh water flowed down, gathering in lakes and rivers. And game was abundant, along with a plenitude of botanicals. There was no question about my ability to survive there.

But I was alone. I sat many an evening praying for a companion. “Father in Heaven, I would give anything for someone to talk to. Anything,” I petitioned.

One night when I finished my supplications, I looked up, and there she was. My Mother.

“Mom? You're dead.”

“Such a nice greeting. Is that any way to say hello?”

“But, but — You're dead.”

“Dead, shmead. There's hardly any difference. I've been on both sides, and I can tell you, dead is not as dead as you might think.”

“But, but how?”

One second after seeing my ten-years-dead mother and I was already feeling guilty.

“Somehow, I got the message you needed me. Was I wrong?”

I wanted to say yes, but I would have felt even more guilty. “No, no, you know that's not true. It's just that I was not expecting you.”

“Yeah, I just happened to drop by. Is that a problem?”

“Oh, no. It's just that it's, it's ….”

“Unusual,” she finished my sentence. Then she said, “Have you got anything to eat? Do you know how long it has been since I ate?”

“Ten years?” I asked.

“At least. What do you have here I can eat?”

“Oh-there are some crabs I could get really quick.” I was sorry I said that as soon as I said it.

“You haven't been eating crabs, have you? You know they aren't kosher. And this you offer to your mother. It's all right. I'll just starve. It hasn't hurt me for over ten years, so why should I object now? You can make me some fish. I prefer white fish.”

“I'll have to go fishing. But I can't predict what kind of fish I catch.”

“It's all right. Whatever you catch is fine. I just hope it's whitefish.”

“Do you want bagels with the fish?” I asked sarcastically.

“Oh, you have a baker here?”

I didn't know if she was serious or just giving me tit for tat.

We had fish I'd dried a few weeks ago, and I picked a salad and served it on a banana leaf.

Throughout the week, I woke up every morning hoping I would wake up out of a dream, and each morning I was disappointed. Then I noticed.

“Mom, are you getting younger?”

“Maybe. I do feel younger. Do I look younger?”

“Yes, I believe you are. That's crazy.”

“Is it any crazier than my being here?” she retorted.

As she grew younger, her criticism and sarcasm diminished. She started remembering skills she learned as a little girl in Russia before they fled the pogroms and settled in the United States. She had a knack for recognizing what was edible, and began to cook. She found a deposit of white clay and fashioned it into pots that would hold water. After firing them in the ground, she used them for cooking.

“Mom, where did you learn to do those things?”

“A little bird taught me,” she said.

“That's what you told me when I was caught in a lie, when I was little. Really, where did you learn that stuff?”

“A little bird told me,” she repeated.

I had to admit, life was better with her there. But one thing worried me. She kept getting younger. By the time we had been there together for about two years, she looked to be fifteen.

“You know, Mom, I don't feel right in calling you Mom anymore. Would you feel bad if I called you Rose?”

“I don't call you by anything except for your little boy's name, which I always did. But I don't think of you as my little boy anymore. I think I have a crush on you. Imagine that.“

“Don't go any further. You're scaring me.“

“Oh, didn't you know? All mothers have a crush on their children. Only now, my brain is not developed enough to restrain me. I know it's not right, but I'm only about fifteen. So, you will have to be in control. If I keep getting younger, I'll grow out of this hormone-crazed development.”

“I hope so. I feel like your father.“

She started to giggle. I would have laughed too, but she really was frightening me. And I was, after all, the only male on the island.

“Maybe you should call me daughter? That would keep things straight. Sort of.”

It was true I was beginning to think of her as my daughter. If I called her that, it would remind me that we were related. The funny thing was, I loved her more than I could ever remember. I loved her as my child, though she was older and far wiser than I was.

“I'll call you Rose or daughter, whatever suits my fancy at the time. How would that be?”

“And I'll call you Papa. Okay?”

So, it was Papa and — more and more– daughter, as she reached five years of age.

“Papa, what's for dinner?”

“I've got some whitefish smoking in the smoke house. How about if I serve that?”

“Yum, yum. Can you bake some bread with that stuff that looks like wheat?”

“I'll go down to the bakers and pick some up. But I still haven't figured out how to make it rise.”

She giggled. “Papa, there are no bakery stores around here.”

“Oh yeah, I forgot. I'll just boil that stuff that looks like wheat, and it will just taste like bagels.”

“No, it won't. It will just taste like boiled stuff,” she complained.

“Okay, I'll just go hungry. Don't worry about me. I'll just grow skinny until I die.” I've been dead before. It's not so bad.”

It didn't matter how young she got, she kept acting like a martyr. But she was doing it as a five-year-old, and I found it cute. In fact, there was no way she could make me feel guilty. I just went along with the joke. She was my daughter. I wondered how she could ever have been perceived as toxic. I suppose it was because she was my mother. Seeing her as a child, with my blood, that changed everything. She could do no wrong. Her poutiness as a five-year-old had to be contained, But I was grateful for it. It was a part of growing up. We would sit and watch the sunsets together. Sometimes we would talk about the weirdness of our situation. She still knew what was going on.

“Papa, that lady I used to be, did you love her?

How do you explain the feelings towards one's mother? I couldn't answer that myself. But I did the best I could. “Yes. I loved her. But it was a complicated love.”

“I think she made you feel guilty.”

“Why do you think that was?”

“Because her parents made her feel that way. It worked for them. They were used to thinking their children would love them no matter what. But that's not true. But I think she was too scared to face that.”

I just looked at her, and tears flowed down my face. I didn't know who I was speaking to, my daughter or my mother. I just drew her closer, and we ended up crying together. We were comforting each other.

In time she said, “I can't stay here much longer, Papa. When I have to go, you will have to leave this island.”

“Don't go. Please.”

“I can't stop it. But I am very grateful for the time we have spent together. I will never forget you.”

I just drew her closer as the night settled in.

She stayed with me for about two months afterward. She grew younger and younger, until she was a baby, incapable of speech. Then an infant, and I had no milk save coconut milk to give her. Until one day, she was an infant without vision. She seemed to curl up and was reabsorbed into a blackness, which was not an end, and she was gone.

I grieved the loss, but I knew she was there looking after me. My grief was balanced with gratitude.

I built a raft and made sails from bark and set off into the vast unknown ocean. I still had the safety vest. The storm came from the opposite direction this time. The calm came, and I heard her voice.

“Goodbye, Son. Don't forget to wear your rubbers. You'll catch cold.”

Then the winds engulfed me again. Night came. Then morning. A ship appeared, and I was rescued. Rescued from the most wonderful place I could imagine. But I had a new strength and vulnerability that came from that.

A Different Kind of Light, fiction
by Lorie McCloud

“Daddy, Daddy! Come on. We have to go upstairs.” 7-year-old Shannon was shouting as she came running out of her bedroom where she’d been playing. Hearing no answer she called again as she headed toward the door to the spiral staircase. “Daddy!”

“Shanny, come over here a minute,” Tim said weakly.

“What’s wrong?” cried Shannon, alarmed. Blind from birth she couldn’t see her father clutching his side as he sagged against the wall but she could hear him gasping in pain. She could also hear the thunder rumbling outside and the waves beginning to crash in. That was what had brought her out of her room. A moan escaped Tim.

“I-I can’t go up those stairs. It oh! It hurts too much.”

“What hurts?”

“My side. I don’t know what it is apendix or something,” he sputtered. “But you have to go upstairs. Turn the lights on for the boats. You know how to do it.”

“But Daddy,” Shannon had begun to cry. “I don’t want to leave you down here. What if-what if…”

“Go on, Shannon. Somebody’s got to turn those lights on. Maybe if you can bring the radio down here I can call for help I-don’t-know.” He let it trail off as another stab of pain took his breath away and he dropped to the floor. He blacked out briefly and when he came to she was still standing there. “Go on, Shannon. Please go!” Reluctantly she went into the hall and opened the door to the spiral staircase and still crying, began the long climb to the top of the lighthouse.

Tim willed himself to get up and follow her but that wasn’t what happened. He rose up all right but he suddenly found himself somewhere else entirely. His pain was gone. He was sitting in the grass on a hillside with his back against a tree. And wonder of wonders, Maureen, his dead wife, was coming toward him and she looking as radiant as she had on their wedding day. He leapt effortlessly to his feet reaching for her and she flew into his arms laughing with joy and delight. They shared a tender embrace.

“Oh Maureen,” he sighed. “I’ve missed you so!”

“I’m never far from you, Tim my love. How could I be when I love you so much?”

“I wish I could stay here with you,” Tim said longingly.

“But who would raise Shannon and who else would light the lights for the ships?” Tim said nothing. He knew she was right. “Rest here for a little while,” she said. Her tone was comforting. “We’ll tell you when it’s time to go back. I’m going to help Shannon now.” As she stepped away from him he looked behind her and saw Shane, Shannon’s twin brother who had died along with Maureen just after his birth. Shane bounded up to Tim sporting a huge grin and dancing eyes. He appeared to be the same age as Shannon. Tim was overcome with love.

Shannon heard her mother’s voice ringing out in the little room at the top of the stairs even before she had quite reached it. It wasn’t just in her head. Her father could’ve heard it too if he’d been there. This hadn’t happened often in her young life but often enough that she had no doubt about whose voice she was hearing.

“Hurry, Shannon. Get the radio out. There’s no time to lose.” Shannon was across the room in a flash, her hands out to grasp the radio. “I’m going to call for help,” Maureen’s voice said very close to Shannon’s ear. Turn the radio on, and hold down the key for me. Do you know where the emergency channel is?” Shannon understood. Her mother couldn’t do anything but use her voice. Shannon would have to do the rest. She knew how. Her father had spent countless hours teaching her to run the radio and to turn on the lights when a storm came. That last had been difficult for him to explain. Even now Shannon wasn’t sure she completely understood about the lights but she did know they were important.

“Ok Mama,” she said. She fiddled with the tuning knobs briefly and then opened the mic. She heard her mother’s voice saying letters and numbers and talking about their location. Maureen repeated the sequence several times and then lightly brushed Shannon’s hand. Shannon let up on the key and listened. An answer came, a man’s voice. It said a lot of letters and numbers and something about a helicopter and a doctor.

“The doctor is coming,” Maureen said brusquely. “Turn on the lights now.” Shannon did as she was told, counting deftly through the levers and knobs as she had been taught. Then she dropped down on to the old worn couch in exhaustion. For a moment she felt as if a warm soft blanket was being wrapped around her. “Stay here until the storm is over,” her mother’s voice said very close to her ear. “Then turn off the lights and go downstairs. I have to go now. I’ll be back later for a visit with you and your dad.”

Shannon fell into a kind of waking dream. She thought she heard a helicopter coming closer and closer. That brought the memory of the time she stepped into a deep hole and broke her leg and the helicopter came with the doctor and Mrs. Mullins, the nurse. Then the scene changed and it was as if Shane was there and they were playing together in the corner by the window as the foghorn bellowed. After that she fell into a deep slumber.

Shannon was startled awake by the touch of a stranger’s hand on her shoulder.

“Where’s your mother?” he demanded.

“I don’t know,” she answered groggily shaking her head to clear it. “Is the storm over?”

“What do you mean you don’t know? She wasn’t downstairs.” Shannon decided that the storm had probably ended and got up to turn off the lights and the foghorn. “Don’t touch those!” exclaimed the stranger in consternation.

Now it was Shannon’s turn to be demanding. She whirled around to face him. “Who are you?” He was a little taken aback.

“I’m Doctor Merrill.” Shannon considered this for a moment before going back over to turn off the lights and put the radio away. He definitely wasn’t the doctor who had set her broken leg 2 years ago.

“Is my father all right?” she asked in as grown-up a voice as she could muster.

“Yes. He is now. We had to do the operation on your dining table. There wasn’t time to airlift him anywhere. Should you be fooling around with those controls? Where’s your mother?”

“I’m not fooling around with them,” she remonstrated sharply. He moved over beside her to observe. Indeed the lights were going off in an orderly fashion and no new ones had been turned on. The foghorn had ceased and she was now working on getting the radio back into its cubby hole. When she had finished, she abruptly turned around, walked past him and started down the stairs. He followed with some difficulty as she had turned off the lights in the room along with everything else.

The door to their living quarters opened as she approached it.

“Shanny! My dear little Shanny!” cried Mrs. Mullins. She stood squarely in the doorway and let Shannon run straight into her arms hugging her tight. Shannon burst into tears as waves of relief washed over her. “There now. There now,” Mrs. Mullins soothed. “Your dad’s going to be just fine. Let’s go see if he’s awake. He’ll be wanting to talk to you.” She took Shannon’s hand and lead her to Tim’s room. Dr. Merrill trailed behind them coming to stand uncertainly in the doorway.

“Your daughter must be a ventriloquist.” he said finally sounding puzzled.

“What’s a ventriloquist?” queried Shannon. Tim had hold of her hand now.

“I can’t hug you yet sweetheart,” he said softly. “It hurts to move. What are you talking about?” he turned his head to look at the doctor.

“It was a grown woman’s voice I heard on that radio,” stated Dr. Merrill emphatically.

“Ah!” murmered Tim, a smile playing around the corners of his mouth.

“Well of course it was.” Mrs. Mullins said in a reasoning tone. “Would anyone have paid attention to a child? They’d have told her to get off the air and you know it.”

“But… but…”

“Mama was up there with me,” Shannon explained patiently. “But she only brought her voice. She lives in heaven but she comes to visit us sometimes.”

“I heard her on the radio,” Mrs. Mullins told them. “And I was so afraid that one of you had died. I just had to come here with the doctor.”

“I did die,” said Tim very quietly. “But I came back.” He squeezed Shannon’s hand. “You and your mother saved my life. I thank you and I’m very proud of you.”

“And so am I,” Mrs. Mullins said solemnly.

“Wait a minute. How could-how could…”

“Oh stop your pesterin’,” exclaimed Mrs. Mullins in exasperation. This made Shannon giggle because it was so much like the things grown-ups sometimes said to her when she couldn’t wait for something. “Go on back to town. I’m sure Tim appreciates your ministrations. I’ll stay here with him and Shannon until he’s well enough to go up those stairs again.” Dr. Merrill turned slowly and resignedly and left the room shaking his head in confusion. Nobody moved or spoke until they heard the helicopter’s propellers starting to beat the air.

“What’s wrong with him?” ventured Shannon after a minute or two.

“He’s blind,” replied Tim dismissively.

“Oh Daddy,” giggled Shannon. “It’s way worse than that.”

“You’re right.” Mrs. Mullins was laughing too. “The kind of blindness he has is much worse than yours.”

“Can we do anything to help him?” Shannon wanted to know.

“Not right now,” rejoined Mrs. Mullins. “He’s not ready.” Shannon didn’t understand what that meant but she gave up asking questions at least for the time being.

“I’ll bet you’re hungry,” Mrs. Mullins said with a pat on Shannon’s shoulder. “I’ll go make you a sandwich and bring you and your father some tea.”

When she was gone Shannon whispered excitedly: “Daddy, Mama said she was going to come and visit us. Maybe she’ll bring Shane too and we can play.” Tim tugged gently on Shannon’s hand.

“Sit down on the floor right here by my bed and put your head on my pillow. I have something very special to tell you.” Shannon obeyed eagerly.

When Mrs. Mullins came back into the room they were both fast asleep, Shannon’s head on Tim’s pillow and his lips near her ear. They looked so happy. They had the most peaceful smiles on their faces that she’d ever seen in her life. She even fancied she knew why.

“So, maureen, you coming tonight or tomorrow night?” she said out loud to her friend in the unseen world. And in her voice there was a delicious sense of anticipation.

Bio: Lorie McCloud has been totally blind since birth. She resides in Fort Worth Texas. Her interests include hiking or walking, swimming, and reading. She enjoys conversing about psychology and metaphysics. Lorie is a volunteer with The Universal Spiritual Brother&sisterhood. She is a singer/song writer as well as an author. Her youtube channel is:

You can listen to her latest music at:

To Kiss a Frog, fiction Honorable Mention
by Winslow Parker

The Prince of Absolugovia returned to his princely self just in time to see a woman gagging, spitting and upchucking onto the very same lily pad from which she had just plucked him.

“Give me a moment, gag spit,” she gasped between bouts of heaving. “Just my reaction to the realization that I actually kissed a frog. Actually, ten of them” Hack gag. “You are,” gag spit, “quite handsome as the legend promises, but…” Arggghhh “I'm trying to decide if it was worth it.” She waved her hand at the befouled lily which bore the remnants of her breakfast.

“I am deeply grateful. I never thought any beautiful young woman would be brave enough to kiss a frog, much less my particular frog self.”

“This is not how I normally appear,” she said, as She scooped up a handful of pond water and rinsed her mouth, then splashed her face with a second handful. Her face was splotched. Her eyes were wide and tearing. Her clothing was soaked and smeared with mud.

“I shall make it well worth your while for your persistence if we do marry, my dear. I do see a hint of beauty hidden beneath all that filth. As you are most surely aware, it will not do for me to marry an ugly girl. I insist that I see you at your best before I make any such important decision.”

“Oh, I know the legend,” said the object of his scorn. “Do you think I would have tried kissing a frog if I thought I was unworthy of your highness? Give me time to recover. I promise you'll be pleasantly surprised.”

“Let's meet again at the castle gate in two hours. I'll judge your beauty then.”

The wanna-be princess hurried home, bathed and changed clothes, put on some light makeup, inserted her favorite pearl earrings and hurried to the castle gate.

“Well?” she said, anxious for his decision.

“Turn your head to the right,” he said. “I want to see your profile.” He stared at her for a long time. She fidgeted.

“I'm sorry, my dear,” he said with princely charm, “you're not quite what I am looking for. Good looking you are, but there's just a little something missing. Or maybe it's just a little bit too much of something. Can't quite make up my mind what it is..” He began to turn away.

She grabbed him by the ear, ran, dragging him behind her, and threw him back into the pond.

He rose from the depth croaking the most pleading of all frog croaks. She turned away.

“Ungrateful Prince!” she shouted over her shoulder. “Choose your princess from among your own kind. Maybe some foolish wench will give you a kiss a hundred years from now. But I'm done with you.”

So ends the true story of the frog prince and the beautiful maiden who kissed him; one of whom lived happily ever after, grateful for her narrow escape.

Part II. Challenges and triumphs

House, poetry First Place
by Valerie Moreno

House of sunlight,
time to play,
laughing at rain that
trickled down windows–
friendly sound lulling me to sleep.

House unfamiliar, unsettled coldness
that confounded innocence,
nightmares brimming from shadowy fear.

House of anger,
terrified, violent–
bleeding from verbal wounds
hidden, unseen.

House, a trap,
where normal covered flames,
scorching young flesh and spirit–
night terror now seen,

House of pain and weeping,
can’t pull me down,
just apart. Resilience born
in melody–I fought with words, freeing hope.

House full circle,
never healed, but accepted–
memories clean and damaged
after so many years–
I bless your silent rooms
with farewell prayers,
love spilled amid ashes
of reality’s sobriety…
No need to look back.
I lock the door.
I leave with eyes open,
holding strength as I step away.

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.

Survival Braille, nonfiction Second Place
by Kate Chamberlin

Although I couldn't see my friends standing in front of me, I knew her feet were apart and her fists were on her hips, because I sure could hear her spout, “Why didn't you call me last night when you knew you'd gone blind?”

I was a 40-year-old woman, yet I whimpered, “Give me a break! I've never been blind before and I've never talked with a blind person. I don't know what to do.”

With frustration, this former O/M instructor with our regional Association for the Blind and Visually Impaired grabbed my wrist and dragged me over to my phone. She put my pinky and thumb fingers into the rotary dial and taught me how to dial her number. Then we sat down and began to use her slate and stylus to braille a deck of cards. That was my introduction to learning braille. In time, I learned the alphabet and began to mark things in my home.

I learned enough braille to survive. I marked paper file folders (upside down on the inside of the tab, so that when I put my finger onto the tab, it reads right-side up). Labelling tape cassettes in the early days and now cd's made it possible to listen to my favorite musicals. Computer jump sticks didn't always have enough flat space on them to place braille labels or high marks, so I added boondoggle with a tag.

Eventually, I learned how to use a computer with the NVDA screen reader. My typing skills from high school came back quickly and the use of braille faded into my survival mode. Then, I realized I was losing my hearing and the audio screen reader wasn't going to be of much help. My thoughts turned to learning literary braille, so I'd be able to continue to use the computer if I could read a refreshable braille device.

I'd heard about the Braille Revival League from the American Council of the Blind community zoom rooms. My braille definitely needed reviving.

I shadowed several meetings before I contacted Audrey Schading, the President of the BRL-NY in the Spring of 2022. She was receptive to my becoming a member and, after hearing why I wanted to join, offered to set me up with two braille buddies.

The chart of braille contractions I had from three decades ago was out of date. I needed a Unified English Braille Code chart to refer to as I read the one volume of Grade two braille in the book of poetry from the Library of Congress. When my braille buddies, Mary Beth and Rachael, down-loaded the same poetry book, they were horrified at the incomprehensible poems they found. No wonder I couldn't figure out what I was reading. By the time I'd gotten to the end of the line, I couldn't remember what was at the beginning of the line. We needed a new plan.

I read the article “Guidelines for Effective Braille Reading” By Grace Minter in the BRL MEMORANDUM, 2022Spring/Summer Issue. I was laughing and crying by the end of the article. I knew I had a lot to un-learn and re-learn to do it right!
We thought of turning to children's stories. As an elementary teacher, I had several children's print/braille stories, including my own published children's books. I thought the UEB reference chart would be helpful, even though the children's books were in the old code. I also thought of using McGuffey's Eclectic Reader, if I could find it in braille. It is a very old and venerable source to teach reading.

My braille buddies put me onto “The McDuffy Reader: Braille Primer For Adults” by Sharon L. Monthei, ©2016-1989, available in hardcopy braille from the National Federation Of The Blind (NFB) Independence Market for $20. In the back of the book, there are useful charts.

I was inspired by the “Braille Birthday Card Exchange” sponsored by the Community Outreach Committee to braille two birthday cards to my twin grandchildren in California, but, not bold enough to join the exchange with real braille users…well, not yet, anyway.

I'm a far cry from fluently reading literary braille and requesting a refreshable braille device, but I'm getting there, dot by dot, cell by cell, thanks to Mary Beth, Rachael and the BRL of New York.

Bio: Kathryn G. (Kate) Chamberlin, B.S., M.A, and her husband have raised 3 children plus 2 grandchildren atop a drumlin in Walworth, NY. Her teaching career continues through her Study Buddy Tutoring Service, Feely Cans and Sniffy Jars Program, and as a popular lecturer. She is a published children's author, Anglican educator, free-lance writer/editor, and proud great-grandmother.

Learning to Communicate as an Autistic, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Joe Wang

While I was in my mother's womb, I never kicked or did anything. Mom thought this was strange. When I was about two years old, she tried talking to me, but could not get me to maintain eye contact or respond. Those moments were awkward because eye contact went only one way.

My parents were troubled. They went to a world-renowned neurologist to see what was wrong with me.

“I hate to break it to you, but your son has autism. He doesn't seem to have any hope. He is too low functioning to learn anything and is stuck in his own little world. Don't bother teaching him Chinese. He would be lucky enough if he could understand English.”

My parents were in tears. Life was difficult as it was. Raising a special needs kid added an extra load.

When I was in grade school, I could barely talk. I had weekly appointments with a speech therapist. However, one time Mom got lost. She missed one of the right turns.


“What's the matter, son?”

“Grrr, grrr!”

“Son, is something wrong?”


Not getting what I was trying to say, she pulled over, went to the back seat, and checked on me. Seeing there was nothing wrong, she closed the door and continued driving.


“Could you please stop it? You are really annoying me.”

“Grrr, grrr.”

Poor Mom, she had to deal with my sounds for about half an hour just for getting lost. Once she headed back, I immediately stopped groaning. When we arrived,
she asked, “Did you groan because you realized I missed the turn?”

I nodded. For some reason, I had difficulty talking. Was it because I hated the way I sounded? Or was it that I had trouble communicating that she missed the turn? I don't know.

At the speech sessions, I was no better. Whenever asked to summarize what I just read, I could not do it. I had difficulty forming the phrases into my own words. I had to review the text and try repeating the words and phrases with my scarlet face, knowing that I would be caught parroting.

My parents did not give up on me. Despite my severe autism, they treated me as a normal human being. Though I struggled with talking and comprehending, they still heavily invested in me. At first, they hired an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist. I often had severe tantrums. Sometimes I exploded because of being misunderstood, while other times, I had outbursts due to stress. I would yell and sometimes become destructive. I remembered being angry once and ripping apart a brand-new paper fan.

Whenever the ABA therapist couldn't handle me, he squeezed my pinky. “This will be your punishment whenever you throw a fit!”

This made me angrier. I tried slapping him, however I was easily overpowered. My pinky would be squashed by the therapist's giant hand. I had a few more sessions with the therapist and almost every time I had an outburst due to something. At the time, I had difficulty communicating, however, the ABA therapist made me extremely uncomfortable. I felt so terrible that I thought that I'd rather die whenever it was the time of the week when he came over. I had to tell my parents about it.

“Mom, uhh? Could you uhh? Will you, uhh?”

“What is it, son?”

“Will, umm, will you promise not to be umm, mad with umm me?”

Mom patted my shoulder. “Of course not.”

“Well, um, the therapist, um physically abuses me.”

Mom was shocked. “What and how?”

“Whenever um I get um mad, he would um punish me by um squeezing um my pinky.”

“Thanks for letting us know, son. I'll discuss with Dad how to deal with the therapist.”

After Mom had a talk with Dad, they decided to fire the ABA therapist for physically abusing me. Afterward, they did not know what to do. Speech therapy did not help me much. As for ABA therapy, what if another therapist could not handle me?

One Sunday after church, my parents met with a friend. After hearing about my struggle, the friend remarked, “This is tough. Have you considered praying about it? I can keep him in my prayers. But I will also suggest you talk to the pastors and other close friends. The more people praying for him, the better. If it is God's will, I believe a breakthrough will happen.”

“Very much appreciated. We'll keep that in mind.”

My parents let the pastors know about my situation, and everyone prayed for me. In the meantime, my parents did their best to self-teach me. Because I was homeschooled all through elementary, middle, and high school, I was at home all day. For language, they had me copy words and then repeat them. In this way, I could associate the words with how they are pronounced.

As for memorizing what the words meant, they had me do flashcards. Flashcards were lifesavers. Despite being autistic, I was curious. Having an unknown word on one side and the definition on the other sparked my interest to find what the word meant.

I was a visual learner too. I needed both an “A role” and a “B role” to help me grasp a concept. In vocabulary, a text plays the “A role” as it is the pure word itself. However, a picture of the word plays the “B role” as it helps associate the word with its meaning.

For every flashcard, I included the term along with a picture. On the backside, I wrote the description. To memorize a word, I would examine the text and see how it relates to the drawing. Before turning the card over, I would think about the meaning before flipping it. My parents were patient with me. Despite taking a lot of time and effort to memorize the words, I managed what seemed like an impossible task. What really gave me the incentive to persevere was a reward system.

“If you memorize the words and can form sentences with them, we will give you a fifty-dollar iTunes card,” Mom promised.

Nowadays, this means nothing to me, but back in the late 1990s to early 2000s, iTunes was the place where I got all my music. With fifty dollars, I could purchase many of my favorite songs. I needed to work hard on my vocabulary and comprehension.

With determination and motivation, I improved drastically. I was able to read, write, and talk without stressing myself. However, I still had difficulty expressing myself. To help me open up, Mom focused on asking me questions that forced an explanation. Questions that require a response beyond a simple “yes” or “no.” For example, instead of asking, “Do you enjoy the sermon?” She would ask, “What did you like about today's sermon?” By asking the latter, it allowed me to practice communication skills. Though I struggled to answer, Mom was patient. “Take your time to gather your thoughts.”

I smiled. I loved how Mom was patient with me, but I could not find the words to say. When it came to sermons, my attention span was terrible. During my childhood, going to church felt like a chore. I only went because my parents dragged me there.

Despite my short attention span, there was always one point in the sermon which I vaguely remembered. However, I could not say it. If I said something stupid, I would be seen as weak. Suddenly, a thought came to mind. Mom wouldn't care if my answer were stupid. If she did, then remaining silent was stupid.

It was safe to say that whatever I said would be fine. I was overthinking it. To overcome my fear, I had to try speaking. Slowly but surely, I managed to give a brief description of the one and only point of the sermon that caught my attention. If people were to ask how I improved so much throughout the years, I would say, “I have a family who loved and supported me.”

Bio: Joe Wang is an autistic Chinese American short story writer living in Fremont, California. He loves writing creative nonfiction essays that reflect his struggles as an autistic. His first published essay, “Making Friends as an Autistic,” appeared in Magnets and Ladders and Spoonie Magazine. He also likes to re-write old folktales and occasional fictional pieces that are entertaining to people of all ages. He attends Ability Write Now, a weekly workshop at Ability Now Bay Area in Oakland, California, for writers with disabilities. He loves video games and hosts a YouTube channel called Endless Gaming Horizons.

Staying Connected, nonfiction
by Debra J. White

I interviewed for my last job in 1993 when cell phones were scarce; the internet was in its infancy. Blackberry and apple were known as fruits. The term 5G was short for an apartment number or $5,000. The term 5G didn't frighten people into torching cell phone towers. Caramel macchiato? Never heard of it. We drank plain old coffee, black or cream with two lumps. A virus made you sick. A mouse was an animal and a web was a spider's home. Nearly every major city had at least two daily newspapers; some even put out an afternoon edition. Imagine that in today's world.

On January 6, 1994, something terrible happened. A careless driver crashed into me as I walked my two dogs leading to a two-month hospital stay. Thankfully neighbors cared for them in my long absence. I would've been lost without them as they were instrumental in my long recovery.

I lacked health insurance but that's another story. Permanent brain injuries removed me from the workplace, which I entered at the age of 16. I worked at the now defunct Alexander's Department store in Manhattan. At times, I held two jobs because of student loans, rent, and the high cost of Manhattan living.

At the age of 39, there was no way I could sit home but lingering problems prevented a return to my social work career. I retained a solid block of long-term memory with some gaps here and there. My short-term memory, however, took a wallop. I felt robbed, cheated, and stung by simple things I couldn't remember. Thoughts, simple ideas, and memories drifted away. No matter how hard I chased them, they turned into grains of sand slipping through my grasp.

I couldn't remember left from right. I mixed up days of the week. I forgot to add water when I steamed vegetables. Singed broccoli tastes as bad as it looks. What would I do? I always led an active life. After work, there were dinners and movies with friends. Dates escorted me to Broadway shows and gallery openings. I shopped until I ran out of money or my feet ached. I attended charity events. After I quit smoking in 1982, I took up jogging, competing in three New York City marathons, running all 26.2 miles. I finished near the end but I made it, despite wobbly legs and skin the color of a cadaver. In 1989, a mid-life crisis hit and I moved out of Manhattan. I biked in the Colorado Rockies and jogged along the Charles River in Boston. I backpacked in Vermont. New challenges excited me but not the one on 1/6/94.

After discharge from the rehab center, I struggled through almost a year of outpatient therapy. At times, I resented the therapists because I wasn't returning to my former self. I couldn't bike for 100 miles. I couldn't bike at all. There were no morning jogs with my dogs. I read a book but then forgot what it was about. I blamed the therapy team for my shortcomings.

Finally, outpatient therapy ended. I'd have to persist with a new life. How, I wasn't sure. Living each day with a damaged brain and body tested me. Initially, I didn’t bother to look for a job because my mind was too scattered. A master's degree from a prestigious private university was of no help. By evening, I could barely remember what happened after breakfast or if I ate at all. Walking was slow and unsteady requiring a motorized scooter for outdoor use. Unless I wanted to be housebound, I had no choice but to re-invent myself as an all-around volunteer. I didn't see myself swallowed in self-pity. I never felt sorry for myself even when I crossed the finish line in a seven-mile race dead last. I forged ahead, persisted when I wanted to give up, and found new meaning in volunteer work. Each position fulfilled and rewarded me in unique ways.

As soon as I was able, I resumed animal shelter volunteer work that began in 1989 at a shelter in Boston. I now volunteer at a Phoenix shelter. Unwanted dogs and cats didn't care about the scar on my face or my motorized scooter. They were glad for my touch of human kindness and for the treats I handed out.

In 2004, I volunteered for the John Kerry presidential campaign making calls several times a week to potential voters. The outcome of the election didn't go as we had hoped but I relished the experience. I was part of a team effort and people looked forward to seeing me. My contributions were valued and appreciated.

In the summer of 2010, I visited Sky Harbor airport to write an article about the Beagle at that sniffs out contraband plants and food in customs. Food and plants are not allowed in the US from foreign nations. One single insect from another country is enough to wipe out an entire crop. It's rare but it happens. The Beagle didn't sniff out any illicit food or plants on my visit but I learned about the use of dogs in airports. Besides sniffing out food and plants, dogs sniff out drugs and explosive devices too. On my way out, I noticed a sign asking for volunteers. I'd always loved airports. My dad sometimes took me to the observation deck at La Guardia airport to watch the planes. I jotted down the number for the volunteer department and called the next day. I attended the next volunteer orientation in September 2010. Ever since, I've been a regular volunteer, working two four-hour shifts each week. I love being a volunteer. Each shift is exciting, challenging, and fun. Take the evening when a young woman, disheveled and frightened, approached the information desk where I was stationed. She asked a few questions of the guest services representative. I overheard the conversation. Fleeing an abusive marriage, the passenger was on her way to a connecting flight to eventually stay with family. She only had on flip flops and she needed a pair of shoes. Was there a place at the airport to buy an inexpensive pair? I was about to ask her shoe size. I had a pair of sneakers in my car that I could have given her. Another passenger, a middle-aged man, was nearby and he too overheard the conversation. He interrupted and handed the woman $100 in cash. He wished her well on her journey and said go find a pair of shoes. Then the stranger walked away. Tears formed in the lady's eyes. I choked up at the stranger's compassion. The woman proceeded to the gate to catch her next flight and to find a pair of shoes. I hope that she detached herself from the abusive marriage and began life anew. I'll always remember that stranger's kindness. No doubt she will too.

About a dozen children swarmed around me and my adopted dog Luke on our first day as a therapy team at a homeless shelter in Mesa, AZ in the fall of 2001.

“What's your dog's name?” a shy boy asked.

“Can I pat him?” a girl with neatly braided hair asked as she stood next to my tail wagging dog. She giggled when Luke tried to kiss her.

“Does he like hamburgers?” the girl's older sister asked.

“Does Luke watch the Animal Planet?” another boy asked.

That began my seven-year odyssey with Gabriel's Angels, a group dedicated to ending the cycle of violence in abused, at risk and abandoned children through healing pet therapy. Homeless children learned the awesome power of healing from me and my dog Luke. I could fill a book with stories from my seven years as a volunteer but one particular moment stands out. Teaching compassion extended beyond animals. A brawl erupted on one visit between two pig-tailed third graders while the other children assembled a jigsaw puzzle. I separated the kids and said, “Ladies, please stop fighting. Tell me what's going on.”

“She said my mother was a pig,” Veronica said jabbing her finger at Tracy.

“Did not,” Tracy said, as she lunged at Veronica's throat.

“Did too,” Veronica said.

I pressed myself in between the feuding girls. “No screaming or hitting. Someone needs to apologize.”

Faces gnarled, the two girls wrapped their arms around their chests and huffed.

“Veronica? Tracy? I don't have all day,” I said.

There was nothing but silence so I picked up Luke's leash and headed towards the door.

“Where're you going?” wide-eyed Veronica asked. “Is Luke leaving?”

“Yes, we're going home,” I said. “Luke doesn't like it when you children fuss and fight.”

Veronica and Tracy quickly made up with hugs and kisses. Although I earned a master's in social work, I lacked training in early childhood development. I wasn't sure what to do but my idea seemed to work, at least for the moment. Children gathered around the table and we finished the jigsaw puzzle.

At the end of 2008, Luke and I retired. Age crept up on Luke. His spirits were bright but he slowed down. Seven years with Gabriel's Angels changed my life. I experienced the hardships of homelessness and how they ruptured family ties. I sensed the children's pain as they talked of loss. Homelessness involves leaving behind good friends, familiar neighborhoods, beloved pets, and comfortable schools. Living in a shelter among strangers can be scary as well as stressful. Talk of family violence unsettled me. I taught children negotiating skills to get along in the world. Luke cuddled with them. He kissed a few cheeks. He rested his paw on kids who sat alone. We cared, we loved and we extended ourselves to make a difference to children who needed us. I hope their world is better because we were there.

Luke died from massive seizures in January 2010. I'll always miss the dog nobody wanted. He was truly the best.

Not to be left out, I performed clerical duties at the Grand Canyon chapter of the Sierra Club where I shredded documents, plugged in data about chapter outings, and filed letters, etc. A children's reading program was of interest so I volunteered and assisted third grade children behind in reading skills. I answered the phone for AZ Gov. Janet Napolitano for five years, talking to constituents. I served as assistant to the head teacher in the English as a second language program at the Phoenix office of the International Rescue Committee (IRC), a world-wide relief, aid and development organization with offices in the US and around the globe. I volunteer weekly for Helping Hands for Relief and Development, a global humanitarian agency that collects, sorts and packs donated clothes, shoes and school supplies for third world Islamic nations among other projects. Sometimes, I help serve a meal to homeless guests at a church. For me, an active life is a continuation of the days the accident abruptly ended.

Over the years, however, I've struggled at times to keep up with the world around me. Technology develops faster than I can comprehend. I read magazines, books, and newspapers so I stay literate and informed. I can't always grasp the swiftness of the changes of the modern world. I'm also old now, in my late 60s.

I bought my first cell phone around 2010 or so. On the drive home, the darn thing rang. Who could it be? I didn't pass the number along to anyone. The phone rang, stumping me on how to answer it. I felt like an idiot. I drove back to the cell phone store and I asked the salesman how to answer the phone. He said you're kidding. I said with a scrunched up face, “Do I look like I'm kidding?” He showed me how and I was on my way. I made several more trips back to the store before I finally got the hang of the phone.

I much prefer talking to a human being rather than a machine but humans are hard to come by these days. When I call a store, doctor's office, or business I hear a robotic voice that tells me to select from the following choices. You've heard them before. If I persist I might end up with a human, but it can be a long wait. My dog Whitley's veterinarian returns calls when he's sick. I like that. No voice mail, no robot, but a real human.

I was in a grocery store the other day and cherries were on sale for a ridiculously low price of $1.99 a pound. At the checkout, the clerk said I needed to download the store's app to buy them at that price. Download an app? Forget it. Either sell them to me for $1.99 or take them back. I left without the cherries.

The office of 1994 is so different from today. Heck, people don't even go to the office. Some work at home wearing pajamas. Others design their own schedule. They meet on line through a thing called Zoom.

Books, magazines, and newspapers are read on line too. I hope by the time bookstores and libraries close that I'm dead. I cannot imagine a world without hard copies. I love sitting in a café and turning the pages. I guess I'm a relic from days gone by.

Had that careless driver swerved and missed me, my life would've gone on as usual. The accident happened and changed everything. I've struggled a lot since then, both physical and financially. My income level plunged right away. I've relied only on meager Social Security Disability payments that barely covered rent, utilities, food and car insurance. I drive a 13 -year-old car. I water down dish soap and laundry detergent to make them last longer. I shop in thrift stores and buy day old bread. I've dug through the trash for aluminum cans to redeem for cash. Never in my life did I imagine myself rummaging through other people's garbage. On the other hand, if 1/6/94 was an ordinary day, I would likely never have become a pet therapist. There would be no volunteering with homeless children and being part of their lives. My job would've prevented me from spending so much time as an animal shelter volunteer serving unwanted dogs and cats. The chance to answer the phones for former Gov. Janet Napolitano would never have been possible. Neither would the opportunity to assist in the English language program for refugees. I would've missed out on so many volunteer chances that enriched my heart and molded me into a better person. My life is fuller because of these volunteer chances. I lost part of my mobility and use a motorized scooter to get around. My long-term memory stinks. I became epileptic but the seizures are under control. Do I regret the accident? No, not at all. I have so much to be thankful for, especially the generosity of friends who helped me out.

Bio: A car accident on 1/6/94 in the Finger Lakes region of NY ended Debra's social work career due to a traumatic brain injury. After recovery, she re-invented herself through volunteer work and writing. An award winning free-lance writer, Debra wrote for The Bark, Animal Wellness, Arizona Republic, Phoenix Business Journal, Social Work, Airports of the World, American Jails, Psychology Today, Potato Soup Journal, Spoonie Press and other magazines/journals. She reviewed books, contributed book chapters, reported for AZ Muslim Voice and wrote a book for TFH Publications. Her webpage is:

Renovations, fiction
by Ann Chiappetta

It was an old Church, still damp from a wet and cold winter. The clouds of incense could not eliminate the mustiness. We shuffled into the pew and sat, Mom wrapping herself in her shawl.

“Now I know why I don't like this church,” she grumbled, tucking her hands into the sleeves of her dress.

People arrived, some we knew, some we didn't; Mom and my daughter, Kara pointed them out if I asked, no thanks to recently losing my vision. Waives and smiles were traded. One figure stood out, striding down the aisle, stopping beside our pew, “Amy, is that you?”

Walt found my hand and I stood for a hug and friendly kiss on the cheek. He introduced me to his fiancé, Donna.

He was tall, stylish and still liked to dress sharply, which made him even more attractive. Donna was also quite chic in a figure-hugging suit and pumps. Even when we dated, many years ago, I never looked like Donna and it made me feel a little envious. I swallowed it, smiled, and we all exchanged pleasantries until the ceremony began.

I recalled that day, my daughter, Cara nestling closer to me for warmth; I put an arm around her, and she whispered, “Walt was your boyfriend?”

“Yes, a long, long, time ago,” I whispered back. “But I love Daddy now and Walt loves Donna.”

She quieted, then said, “He's cuter than Daddy,”

A year earlier Walt was the contractor chosen to remodel our kitchen, thanks to the same friend who'd gotten married in the chilly church.

While Walt first demolished, then rebuilt our kitchen, I studied and wrote term papers. At one point, he tried to get my attention from down the hall by waving his hands. Turning from the desk nook, I looked down the hall and saw him standing there but couldn't tell what he was doing.

“What is it?” I asked, sensing he wanted my attention.

“Wow, you really can't see, can you?”

“All this time you thought I was making it up?” I said.

“No, well, everyone said you're losing your sight but you don't act like it.”

“I'm used to it, I guess,” I said., adding, “Whatever you do, don't pity me, okay? I'm still the same person.”

I could sense he struggled in the awkward moment between us.

“It sucks, that's all.” He said and went back to laying the floor tile.

On the last day, Walt packed up and snapped photos of our kitchen for his portfolio and I handed him the check. As he folded and stashed it in a shirt pocket, I realized that this was it, most likely, the last time we'd ever spend that much time together, and in defiance of the feelings it provoked, I asked for a handshake instead of a hug.

He pushed my hand away, “That's not good enough.” He smiled and held out his arms. As he folded me into a familiar embrace, I wanted to cry, tell him how scared I was, and find a little comfort from someone who cared. He was always uncanny when it came to reading me and my thoughts. Just as good, in fact, as I was at reading his. But I hung back, afraid that if I let go, I'd be overwhelmed. Walt was the opposite of my husband in looks and temperament. Gary was responsible and reliable and Walt wasn't. Walt was like touching fire.

He bent to kiss me, his lips warm and full of what we shared in the past.

The memories faded, taken over by the reception hall crowd and the boisterous clinking of drinks. There was no hope, I thought, watching Walt and his fiancé hold hands while we waited at the reception bar.

My husband couldn't come and even though Cara was with me, I felt lonely. It didn't matter that he needed to work so he couldn’t come to the reception. After a few drinks and an hour of dancing, I got my white cane and headed outside. Cara was busy with a few kids she'd met and I took the opportunity to slip out after letting their mom know where I was going.

“Want some company?” asked Walt, appearing beside me. Once outside, he tucked my hand into the crook of his elbow and we walked around the garden.

“Are you happy?” I asked.

He stopped and seemed to consider the question before answering.

“Yes. I'm doing what I love to do; I'm with someone I think I can spend the rest of my life with, so, yeah, I'm happy.” He squeezed my hand against his side for emphasis. I felt his bicep bulge.

“What about you, Amy?”

I leaned into him for a moment.

“I've got so much to be thankful for, my marriage, my kids, and my family. For a long time after my diagnosis, I pushed them away. I didn't want them feeling like I did, you know. But it's better-I'm getting there, getting back to being me.”

“What's it like-going blind, I mean.” He asked.

“Not being able to control it. Not knowing when it will get worse is what I hate the most about it,” I answered. I knew he was looking at me. I touched his cheek, acknowledging the sound of concern that was probably mirrored upon his face.

“I'm going to be okay” I said.

We walked back to the reception; my arm tucked securely into the crook of his elbow.

I knew I didn't have to say I was scared about losing my sight, about living with the anger or the fear. Walt knew. He understood, and, if I'd learned anything about him during our friendship, it was that he respected and admired me for fighting my way through the slush pile called disability.

“Amy, did I ever tell you how amazing you are?” he said, and leaned in to kiss me. It was just like the one he shared the day he finished renovating our kitchen. There were so many times I wanted to know what he thought about me, about my life, my decisions but I was too afraid to ask. Too afraid to let anyone get close enough to see my pain.
I had come to despise the way people threw around the word “amazing” or saying, “You are a true inspiration,”. These statements made me feel outside the norm and all I ever wanted after being told I was going blind was to be normal, not singled out for what I no longer possessed. But hearing it from Walt meant something, it held a deeper meaning.
His words and the kiss provided me with the answer I'd ached to hear for so many years.
He validated our past and the future with a simple set of words and gestures, what I will always remember as a renovation of the heart.

Bio: Ann is an artist and often refers to her love of words as a natural compensation after losing her vision in 1993. Once a designer of acrylic displays and furniture, Ann trained her creative senses to flow over from the visual to the literary arts. Years later, she has become a poet and author, honing her talent in various mediums, including web content for nonprofits, regular bylines for online literary publications, poetry, anthologies and guest editing in online literary journals, just to name a few projects of which she has contributed.

The author of five independently published books, Ann is a consultant and keynote speaker, visiting organizations and schools promoting appreciation for poetry and storytelling and awareness and equality for people with disabilities. She is the 2015 recipient of the WDOM Spirit of Independence award and the 2019 recipient of the GDUI Leiberg-Metz award for writing.

Find everything Annie on the web at:

A simple operation, Poetry
by John Masterson

A simple operation

To loosen my hamstrings behind my knees
But something unexpected happens
The doctors are angry they have to work a little longer
The hamstrings are coiled as tightly as iron cores
So I stay in the hospital for weeks more
And each week the professionals in punishment file in to try to cover up their miscalculation
Hammering stakes into the hardened cast
And inserting roughly-hewn wedges to straighten
Stubborn tendons and plaster
Centimeters at a time
Week after week
Howling with pain
I struggle to push myself out of my skin
I imagine being Christ
On the Cross
Suddenly all eyes turn up to the TV in the corner
President Kennedy has just been shot

Bio: John Masterson was born with cerebral palsy. He graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit with a BA in English and published poetry in Wordgathering. Spoonie Press nominated his micro essay “Little Wheels” for the 2022 Best of the Net Award. He also published three novels on Kindle—A Vampire in the Sun (A Scarlet Peccadillo), A Woman Out of Time, and What Happened to Jane*? He lives in Hayward, California.

Recovering, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

The idleness of illness
envelopes my aging body,
cushioning its frailty
in sweet oblivion.
The world's persistent entropy
stops mid-spin and quiets
to match my slow and steady breathing.

Bio: Sally Rosenthal was an academic librarian and occupational therapist before losing all her vision. She is a frequent contributor to publications about disability issues and the human-animal bond. Information about her new book Peonies In Winter: A Journey Through Loss, Grief And Healing can be found at

Golden Years Silver Lining Theory, poetry
by Gerard Sarnat

Done with halcyon days skipping rocks in some lake,
Demosthenes pebbles in leaden mouth and shoes
lead to stutters well as missteps.

I'm six weeks post second hip replacement in six months.
CT didn't show fractures, so went off bed rest precautions…too soon
since vertebral MRIs seem to progress with spinal stenosis episodes unresolved.

Maybe increased Neurontin, not going upstairs will help relieve pain?
Can't wait for first time in an eternity
to use our bathroom instead of bedside urinal.

I dream of getting rid all that apparatus including commode, ice machine.
To be able to carefully resume limited exercise.
Feel good lubricating deep core.

Instead of projecting “feel sorry for me,” let's see
if a bout of redefined near-normalcy — while not overdoing it — is in the cards.
Yes, I'll begin to train myself to appear chipper.

Bottom-line: Remind yourself
what pancreatic cancer metastatic to lungs, liver plus bone
must be compared to this trivia.

Could putting on jeans instead of pajamas or sweat pants
perhaps give a psychological boost
driving to physiatrist and neurosurgeon appointments?

No longer housebound, once I'm inside, people generally try to pretend
not to notice or glance aside when they see a body coming, embarrassed
by the sign of a not-so-old man having too much trouble.

Rounding the bend to Neurosurgery,
I hear one very old lady whisper to another,
“What a shame such a young man has to suffer so.”

After I returned to the medical clinic I worked at
then ran, most previous friends looked away
or smiled wanly (as did I) as Doctor Sarnat limped by.

Hobbling on a cane, I was embarrassed among past colleagues
who surely thought to themselves,
“Wow, Gerry now looks like a frail little old person.”

In the lobby, a neurosurgeon émigré whom I recall toiling
dawn to dusk to send dollars to Moscow, bumps into her previous boss –
which results in surprisingly comforting eye contact plus gentle hugs!

Bad news is: incipient tremulous hands
still require wooden stick/ steely walker to get around
in a rapidly shrinking New World.

But there's also good news: on MD's okay, back home, bloating septuagenarian
is grateful to resume exercycling a tiny bit so as I do not devolve
into a frosted donut or fried dumpling like my elder decrepit brother.

Bio: Gerard Sarnat has a history of disabling back pain, spinal stenosis, and vertebral collapse .

He is the winner of the San Francisco Poetry's 2020 Contest, the Poetry in the Arts First Place Award plus the Dorfman Prize, and has been nominated for several Pushcarts plus Best of the Net Awards. Gerry has been widely published including in 2022 Awakenings Review, 2022 Arts & Cultural Council of Bucks County Celebration, 2022 Rio Grande Valley International Poetry Festival Anthology, The Deronda Review, Jewish Writing Project, Hong Kong Review, Tokyo Poetry Journal, Buddhist Poetry Review, Gargoyle, Main Street Rag, New Delta Review, Arkansas Review, Hamilton-Stone Review, Northampton Review, Texas Review, Vonnegut Journal, Brooklyn Review, San Francisco Magazine, Monterey Poetry Review, The Los Angeles Review, and The New York Times as well as by Harvard, Stanford, Dartmouth, Penn, Columbia, North Dakota, McMaster and University of Chicago presses. He's authored the collections Homeless Chronicles, Disputes, 17s, and Melting the Ice King*.

Wicked Wishes, nonfiction
by Carol Farnsworth

I sit alone in a changing room, waiting for an MRI brain scan to look for the cause of my stroke. I wait for someone to tell me what to do. Finally a technician tells me to strip and put on hospital scrubs and white socks.

“What do I do with my clothes?”

“Just leave them on the table.”

“Where is the table?”

The nurse pauses a beat before answering, “On your left side.”

This is when I have my first of many evil wishes. The table is on my right but the nurse sees the table facing me so it is on her left.

I find my scrubs and wait a little longer. The room is colder than I like. Goosebumps soon form on my arms and thighs. I resist removing my hearing aids until I am in the room housing the machine. As a blind person, I rely on my hearing for clues about what’s happening around me.

I am led by the hand like a child to sit then lie on a sliding mat to be pushed into a small opening in a large machine. I know that the machine is large because I asked to feel it first.

Instead of telling me what to expect and what I need to do, the last instruction from the tech is, “Don't move!”

I feel my body slide forward and I am encased inside the machine. I hear the magnets clang and move around my head. I think of the earrings that I had almost not taken out this morning. I wonder why they hadn’t bothered to ask me about any piercings.

Halfway through the MRI, I remember every horror movie where the brain is removed and replaced with an evil clone. The tube feels tomblike. The warmth of the MRI machine causes claustrophobic panic as I start to sweat. Cool air alternates with heat, chilling my body. I should have taken the extra blanket when it was offered. I am pulled out of the machine. I feel like a cork being popped out of a bottle. The tech is talking but I shake my head because I can’t understand.

An IV is inserted in my arm to deliver the dye. Though I had dye in the past, This time I feel cold then clammy.

When I ask the tech she yelled, “It could be a reaction to the dye.”

My next wish is to give the same injection to the nearest tech. My mind sees small psychedelic undulating worms in my visual field. I am surprised. I haven’t had any useable vision for years.

Finally, I am pulled from the machine and can move.

“Where are my hearing aids?” Inserting them into my ears, I can understand what the techs are saying. I held on to the tech’s arm to find my way back to the dressing area.

I am left to locate my clothes by myself. One of my shoes fell to the floor, I have to find it with my feet. My clothes are in a pile, not folded as I had left them. I wonder if any of the technicians could get dressed in total darkness!

When I am dressed a tech comes to escort me out to the waiting area.

“Well, I am glad that is over!”, I say.

“O, you will be back in two months to have another MRI test.”

Inwardly, I groan but outwardly I smile at thoughts of sticking each tech with pins as one would do with a voodoo doll. Next time, I will be more assertive about my needs.

Bio: Carol has worn many hats in her life: Musician, speech therapist, artist and poet. Born with glaucoma, Carol has experienced gradual vision loss all her life. 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. Her ther passions are gardening, cooking and tandem biking. While riding as a stoker, she can discover nature through hearing, scent and touch. She and her tandem partner John live in a small town in western lower Michigan.

Her first Chapbook, Leaf Memories, is a direct result from experiencing nature from a tandem and walks outside her backdoor. Carol said, “I hope to take the reader with me into my poems. if the reader feels relaxed after finishing the book, the poems have done their work.”
Leaf Memories is available from Amazon in print and as a Kindle book. It is also available from Smash Books.

What do You Wear to the Doctor Appointment When You are Going to Get Bad News? nonfiction
by Ashley Mates

The bad news is news, for months it's been no news while you deteriorate which feels like news. Tests that don't report back from the battlefield of your body—are no news.

Do you wear your power dress, the one you wear to outshine your competitors? Will the bad news stain it? Will it loose it's magic? Or will the magic get you through?

Do you dress down, knowing you will want to crawl into bed? You won't miss the outfit if you need to burn it in a bonfire spell.

The truth is, the day your doctor calls with the bad news started months ago and you haven't dressed down yet.

Do you wear a going out dress? It's revealing, short and tight. It's hard to breathe in, even harder to sob in.
Remember the night it became the breakup dress? You almost ripped it off to catch a deep breath. You didn't; it's worth more than he was and still worth more than bad news.

Do you wear business casual from the back of the closet? It itches and fits weird but looks okayish. Unremarkable but presentable. It's what the mediocre wear and you wouldn't be caught dead wearing it. No news is that bad. Pull yourself together.

Do you wear your signature look? The one you accidentally wear every time you are out and someone takes a picture. It probably needs to be retired because the whispers say you are too old for it, and the zipper needs a safety pin. It's gotten you through plenty of bad days and it has pockets. It sorta makes sense to wear that dress to unsuccessfully convince yourself you'll be unchanged.

Does it matter? The news will melt in your brain and it's not like you'll hear it anyway. The doctors voice will turn into the Peanuts adult.

Is tomorrow the day you worry about what to wear? Day 1 of the news, when you face waking up in the hell that is your newly defined disabled body. Where its hard to pick up your feet and your hands shake.

When your future self looks back to the news, you hope she says you made the right choice. It changed everything that could have happened that day.

Bio: Ashley Mates was diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy, a rare neurological disorder. She feels incredibly blessed to have good union health insurance and a community around her while her world and body changed. When Ashley isn't writing poetry, she spends most of her time as a union organizer in Oakland, CA. Right now, her biggest joy is wiggling her toes again in the California sand. Her disability journey has further strengthened her passion for Medi-Cal for all and paid sick leave, no one should worry about their health insurance or pay while face a debilitating disorder.

Part III. Slices of Life

Goodbye, poetry Honorable Mention
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

Sweet boy,
Lying asleep
Ears pricked to hear a call.
Over the Rainbow Bridge he went.
He left my side for the last time.
His harness hangs empty
A paw print marked heart

Bio: Deanna Quietwater Noriega is half Apache and a quarter Chippewa, living in Columbia, Missouri with extended family nearby. She has been a writer and story teller since childhood. She has had work published in six anthologies. Her writing has also appeared in Magnets and Ladders, an international e-mag; Generations, a native literature magazine; Dialogue Magazine; The Braille Forum; and Angels On Earth. She has recently published an auto-biography to mark her fifty years of sharing her life with guide dogs. She is teamed with her ninth guide dog, a male German shepherd named Enzo.

Walking in Tandem, nonfiction
by DeAnna Quietwater Noriega

Ten times I have gone to the airport to fly to Morristown New Jersey to meet someone to share my life journey. Sometimes I have been grieving the loss of a dear friend. At other times I went knowing that I was entering a new adventure with excitement and eager anticipation. I never knew who I would meet or whether my new friend would be exactly who I needed in my life.

Training with a guide dog requires faith in oneself and determination to begin again with a dog who doesn't know me or particularly want to be my partner. Like learning to dance with a stranger, I have to adjust how I move to synchronize my steps to the new dog. At first, I might feel like I'm dancing a square-dance while my dog is trying to Salsa. I could feel totally out of step.

Each time I have made this journey, I have learned new dog-handling techniques. Forging the bonds to achieve the synergy that is a well-functioning team takes skills tailored to maximize our communication.

I have to pay attention to subtle clues. How can I build the rapport with this particular dog? What character traits make him unique in his approach to navigating along crowded streets filled with traffic, other pedestrians, sidewalk furniture, broken pavement and obstacles in our path?

Does my new dog need a cheerleader to support his timidity and give him confidence? Will this dog respond better to firmness in order to establish that I am the one in charge? Does she have tendencies that must be curbed so as not to become a problem in future? For example, does she sniff too much, distract from working to engage with other dogs, scavenge or want to chase after scampering wildlife? How does my new dog indicate the things he sees? Training time is short. We race through challenges and experiences designed to prepare us to be on our own.

This time, my new friend bounded across my room to place both front paws in my lap. He wagged joyfully and tried to lick my face. He is a two-year-old Labrador Retriever the color of a toasted marshmallow. He has a red-gold muzzle and matching ears which frame his amber eyes. He is 64 pounds of puppy enthusiasm, standing 22 inches at the shoulder. His name is Flynn.

Flynn's exuberance seems to say, “Oh goody, I got a lady! Please love me and take me away from this gruff man!”

I learn that my instructor didn't train him. His trainer was a young woman who had accepted a work-from-home position, since she had a new baby. This might make it easier to win Flynn's attention as we work together. I won't have to compete with the person that taught him to guide.

One of the things I love is his unique way of expressing his enjoyment when he thinks he is doing a good job. He carries his tail in a curve over his back. He wags it when he is sure he is making the best choice in avoiding broken sidewalks. The tip of that tail whisks against the underside of my forearm like butterfly kisses. He exhibits confidence combined with caution, moving smoothly from one edge of the sidewalk to the other to ensure that I have the smoothest section available to walk on. If Flynn works the average number of years in-harness, I will be in my eighties and will be able to request that a dog be brought to me for a home placement. Then again, he might be the last dog that I partner with in this dance of life.

Descent into joy, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Shawn Jacobson

I have always enjoyed roller coasters. I enjoy them so much that when my wife and I put a bucket list together, I mentioned that I would love to go to Kennywood in Pittsburgh to ride their classic coasters. Later, I felt a surge of joy when I opened my birthday card and saw printed on sheets of paper the tickets for the park. I anticipated plunging from the heights of adulthood into second childhood with the maniac scream that is only fitting for excellent coasters.

Though I was ecstatic to go, I also felt mounting trepidation. Would I be allowed on the rides? I'd been turned away from roller coasters in the past because I was too tall to ride safely.

Another source of trepidation was genuine concern about whether I still had the physical courage to enjoy these rides. I remember one coaster I'd been on with my daughter. It was one of those rides that starts with a loop. It also performed a lot of barrel rolls and found all manner of innovative ways to through you around. After the ride ended my daughter turned to me saying; “Babba, you survived!”

“Thanks,” I said as my innards re-sorted themselves into their proper places. I figured that I had a few more years to do these rides while I could enjoy them. Now I hoped my time had not run out.

As we enter the park, we immediately find the first coaster, the Sky Rocket. I share the ride with a lady who is a regular at the park. As we travel up the first lift, she tells me that I will enjoy the ride. We get to the top, hit the first turn, and yikes! Barrel roll. As I come back upright, I realize that I'm on a serious ride.

Let me say here that all trips upside-down on a roller coaster are not created equal. I'm fine with loops. On a loop, you travel fast enough that you don't feel upside down; you feel like the earth and sky have traded places; it's a fun optical illusion. Barrels rolls, however, are different; you can't hide the fact that you are upside down on a barrel roll.

Coming off the ride only mildly shaken, I walk with my wife to the next coaster, the Jack Rabbit. I move through the cue until it suddonly stops. “We have to suspend operations of the ride,” an announcer says. “Anyone who wants to stay in line can do so.” After five minutes of waiting while people say that it is safe to cross the tracks, I give up along with the rest of the line. As we move on, my wife mentions that EMT personnel were called to assist a rider.

After taking a ride on the Racer, and being on the losing train, I let my wife, who is conducting a selfless act of watching me ride take a break; she doesn't do coasters. Then she guides me to the entrance of The Steel Curtain. Walking under a sign that reads “This is Steeler country,” I enter the cue. My eyesight isn't up to finding the end of the line, but once I'm there, I can follow along. As hard rock pounds through loudspeakers, I debate with myself the wisdom of taking this ride.

“Everyone who rides this comes off the ride unharmed, it isn't dangerous,” the voice of courage says.

“Except for the poor soul who needed medical attention,” my inner coward replies, “and that was a tame ride.”

Recorded voices of Steeler icons tell the waiting riders to leave loose objects with a teammate, a non-rider, or on the sidelines, in storage boxes stationed by the ride, and not to leave them on the field.

Eventually, I reach the front of the cue. After stating that this coaster goes upside down nine times, the attendant gives the maximum height, 78 inches and maximum weight, 300 pounds to ride.

I climb into the car mulling the irony that many of the Steelers could not ride this Steeler-themed ride. Then, I do some quick math; I may be too tall to ride. My inner coward feels a surge of hope.

“Am I too tall for this ride?” I ask the man as he shows me where to fasten my seat belt.

He rams the safety bar down onto my knees; “you're good to go,” he says. My inner coward's hopes are dashed; I await the lift.

I figure that I'm not going to do any sightseeing once the ride starts doing its thing, so I look around as we ascend. I see the park spread out below me as we climb; then I see the hilly country that surrounds the park with a river running through it. After a lengthy climb, we reach the top of the lift. Then suddenly, the train shoots straight up and does a backflip. Just as I realize that I'm upside-down, we start a twisting, straight-down plunge. After this, I do not know what happens save that orientation becomes uncertain. It seems that every time I get re-oriented the track would twists and I am upside-down again. Earth and sky switch places in my view with unsettling rapidity as my stomach twists into knots. Then we swoop over the cue, go over a couple of blessedly upright hills, and arrive back at the beginning.

You survived, I think to myself as the train comes to a stop. My innards sort themselves back into their proper places.

“How did you enjoy the ride?” the attendant asks.

Those of us not totally overcome whoop our responses.

“The rest of you must be Bengal fans,” the attendant responds. “I hope you enjoyed your Super Bowl,” he says with a sneer.

I manage the mechanics of extricating myself from the train and wobble down stairs and through a gift shop full of Steeler's gear. I stumble out the door and rejoin my wife. Man what a ride!

The rest of the day is less scary. After concluding unfinished business with The Jack Rabbit, a grand old wooden coaster without barrel rolls, we eat a lunch of hot dogs and fries. Then it is off to the last two coasters.

First up is The Phantom's Revenge. I enter the car, it is almost comfortable, and await the ride. As the lift takes me up, I try to figure out if this coaster is taller than The Steel Curtain; I think it's a wash. After the turn at the top of the lift, I steel myself for the descent. In addition to dropping the length of the life, this coaster also drops off a cliff, thus, the descent is crazy long, I think I heard 300 feet. As we approach the bottom, I notice that the train cuts through the infrastructure of The Thunderbolt, the wooden coaster that shares the cliff. Being tall, I experience ceilings in a way that most people don't; thus I duck and cover as the train goes through the opening. I continue to duck as the two coasters weave their way through each other.

The last coaster I ride is The Thunderbolt, the coaster that runs with The Phantom's Revenge. What makes this coaster distinctive is that the first drop, again off a cliff, comes before the first lift. This coaster is a joy to ride, but by now I am so shaken up that it is time to call it a day.

On the way out, I take one last ride on Racer. This time I'm on the train that wins and we all whoop with the thrill of victory.

Later, I wait for my wife who is buying a pretzel. I watch The Steel Curtain as it travels the track festooned on the ride's supports. It looks a lot like a deranged monkey on a jungle gym. As I watch the train perform its gyrations, I think with shock, wonder, and a sense of accomplishment, I rode this beast.

Now I am home reading science fiction for a book club as I remember the wonderful experience. There is a savage joy in being scared out of my wits, and I am glad that I went to Kennywood at an age where I could still appreciate it. Nevertheless, my next flights will be on the wings of imagination. I will let the space aliens do the actual flying; you use less ibuprofen that way.

Bio: Shawn Jacobson was born totally blind, but now has some eyesight. He attended college at Iowa State University where he received a BA in Political Science and an MS in Statistics. He then worked for the Federal Government for 37 years. He is currently retired and is living with his wife, son, and
dogs in Olney MD. His daughter lives in Baltimore.

Career Suicide, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

Until the gold fades
I will treasure future years
unchained from this life.

The leader shows a slide upon the screen
a desert road, mountains in the distance.
“The road forward” reads the caption,
but it is not my road; I will part ways.
The road of office life, shall not be mine.
I will take a different path through other lands.
My career will pass from my hands as I exit.

By my will I relinquish this cubical place,
and abdicate my purpose with my hand.
I relinquish this life to live in other ways.
Thus, memory will fade as I move onward.
My works will end so others might begin.
I terminate this time for new conceptions.
All things must end; I end this work life here.

Soon shall come the day of this surrender
the final acts of labor in this existence.
I shall return my badge, and my computer
things I used though they were never mine.
And then I will depart for new tomorrows
HUDGone shall cleanse my ghosts from here.
Dead to this world that I might freely live.
I shall be free to seek a new path forward,
across new deserts framed by different mountains.
I freely take the challenge of new burdens
inviting new works into this new life.
In liberty I'll build a grander future
and in the light of freedom I will strive
to fill these golden years with well lived joy

I drop this burden
looking to the horizon;
Freedom, death, freedom

Gloves, Flash Fiction
by Abbie Johnson Taylor

The snow fell in a wall of white, obscuring Zoe’s view of the road and the darkening sky. “Why didn’t I stay where I was?” she asked herself, as she drove at a snail’s pace along the Shirley Basin Road that wound its way from Medicine Bow to Casper, Wyoming.

As the car’s interior grew colder, she fiddled with the heater knob, but nothing happened. “Dammit! No heat!”

She pulled to the side of the road, ignoring the sliding noise the tires made. She searched for her gloves, but they weren’t in her coat pockets or her purse. “I must have left them at the convenience store in Medicine Bow.”

After taking several deep breaths and warming her hands in her pockets, she said, “I should go back. There are people in Medicine Bow. There is warmth in Medicine Bow.”

The engine whined, and the tires skidded on the ice under the newly fallen snow. In a frantic effort to free herself, she gunned the engine and rocked the car back and forth. The motor continued to whine as the tires slipped deeper into the drift. After a few more minutes of struggling, she switched off the engine and stuffed her cold hands in her pockets.

The night was silent except for the wind and the soft thud of snow pelting the car. Shivering, she zipped her winter coat as high as it would go. After tightening the hood around her face, she wriggled her toes inside her boots. With a sigh of resignation, she buried her hands deeper in her coat pockets and settled herself more comfortably.

“It doesn't matter,” she told herself. “If God exists, and this is His way of punishing me for running away, so be it.” She touched the bruise on her cheek she received the day before, hoping that was the last time Dirk would hit her. Resting her head on the seat back, she closed her eyes and let herself drift, knowing this was dangerous.

Several sharp thuds on her driver's side window woke her. A car idled behind her, its exhaust creating an eerie specter in the freezing air. Turning her head, she gasped in horror when she saw the angry face outside the window. It couldn't be. Since she had no relatives in Wyoming, his chances of finding her were slim, she thought, but there he was, Dirk the jerk.

Her panic rising, she turned the key in the ignition and pushed the button to lock all doors. Her heart sank when he removed the spare key from his pocket and unlocked the driver’s side door. He yanked her out into the freezing cold, slammed the door, and pinned her against it, delivering a hard blow to her cheek.

“How did you find me?”

“I followed your tracks,” he said, as he struck her a second time. “I found these on the counter at the Super America in Medicine Bow.” He removed her gloves from his pocket and tossed them into the snow.

“You never did have much sense.” He hit her a third time. “I figured you’d be stranded out here somewhere.”

He released her, and when she bent to retrieve the gloves, he delivered a sharp kick to her backside, sending her sprawling in the snow.

Anger rose within her, but before she could do anything, another male voice called, “Hey, what’s going on?”

Startled, Zoe leaped to her feet, as Dirk yelled, “You stay out of it, butthead! This is between me and Zoe.”

She turned to see a snowplow idling behind Dirk’s car. The driver hurried to her side. Looking into his face, she saw nothing but concern. He put a hand on her shoulder. “Has this guy been hurting you?”

Dirk lunged forward and grabbed the driver’s arm. “Hey, keep your hands off my girl.”

“You’re the one who needs to butt out, Dirk the jerk!” Zoe cried. “I may not have much sense, but I know enough to leave a rotten excuse for a boyfriend like you. Go away!”

Dirk let go of the driver’s arm and took a step back, looking as if he’d been punched.

“You heard her,” the driver said. “Get away from here now, or I’ll call the cops.”

Dirk hesitated for a moment. Then, without a word, he turned and walked to his car. As he drove away, Zoe began shivering.

The driver picked up her gloves and held them out. “Are these yours?”

She could only nod, as she took them and put them on.

“It’s nice to meet you, Zoe. I’m Tom. Let’s see if we can’t get your car out of that snowdrift.”

Remembering why she’d pulled to the side of the road, she said through chattering teeth, “I don’t have any heat.”

“Okay, come get in my vehicle where it’s warm, and I’ll call a tow truck.”

He held out his hand. She took it and walked with him, not looking back, only looking forward.

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

The Initial Encounter of Betrayal, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Something down so deep is violently struck
and a slow, shattering breakage begins.

The sense of loss
sweeps over you.
A vast tidal wave
formed of incomprehensible emotional pain,
such That you never imagined possible!

You begin to unconsciously recognize,
nothing can ever be the same again!

In such moments, your vulnerability is untenable.
For what about the love that remains?
As even the discovery of such all-encompassing betrayal
does not immediately negate or disperse,
all the love you believe,
was unique, sacred and forever!
Perhaps, even a divinely gifted trust.

You would literally do anything
to return to a time before.
“Maybe our love can even survive this!
Oh please yes, I can't go on without it!”

But in barbed,
squeezed out fragments of time,
you are made to recognize and
cruelly forced to accept,
your ability to trust her
has been irrevocably broken forever!

Bio: Brad Corallo, a writer in multiple genres, is a Long Island native. His work has been published in sixteen previous issues of Magnets & Ladders, in The William B. Joslin Outstanding Program Awards Journal “NYSID Preferred Source Solutions”, The Red Wolf Coalition, L.I. Able News and several additions of The Avocet. He has been a life-long student of fine wine, food, music, books, space exploration, several professional sports and relationships of all kinds. Brad is now happily retired after thirty eight years of employment in the human service field. Due to LCA (a very rare genetic retinal condition) Brad has experienced impaired and worsening vision throughout his lifetime

Nebraska, poetry
by Shawn Jacobson

We pass beneath the arch, a veteran's tribute
and through this highway oasis settlement.
It sits amidst this prairie emptiness
a lonely see of grassland and still waters.
The exit offers hotels, stores, restaurants
places to eat and stay along the way.
This place could be a weary Travelers rest,
yet we decline to stop, we travel on.

This empty land speaks quiet lyric verse
in soft poetry, stoic quietude.
Its calm message of silence teaches patience
that the good things ahead can wait for their true time.
Occasionally, towns stand amidst the silence,
York, Hastings, Lexington, North Platt,
punctate the stanzas of the plains
lend rhythm to this empty land's refrain.

This is the working land through which we pass
the Atlas on who's shoulders rest our greatness.
These are the lands of farms and cattle feedlots.
This is the land of framer's toil.
As we ascent to Colorado's highlands,
along the subtle tilting of the land,
we ought to praise this empty quiet country,
this land that blesses us with wholesome food.

And this then is the lesson of the land,
that happiness is unreal if not earned.
That constant joys do jade before they fill
the heart that lacks the discipline of patience,
that steady humble climbing does suffice,
to reach the splendid heights that are our goal,
that persistence and striving are not vain,
that patience, constant reaching, gains the skies.

Inspiration Arrived Early This Morning, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

I pressed
my feet deeper into plush blue blankets

I stretched
my resting body and flexed my heels

I looked
slowly at the neon green numbers on the bedside clock

I remembered
it's the first morning of Autumn!

I knew
the rising sun can't be seen through a window that faces west

I listened
to the morning bird songs drifting into the room

I thought
about giving a gift to my lover this morning

I decided
it must be a divine offering fit for the gods

I remembered
a shiny silver box in the next room

I rose
to get the magical surprise that I would bring to him this morning

I brought
the shimmering gift – that was pure inspiration

I lifted
his warm arm and pushed the cool, slender metallic box under it

He reached
to grab the silver box of Cracker Jacks tucked under his arm.

“Inspiration Arrived Early This Morning” was previously published in:

World Poetry Movement, April, 20

Bio: Lynda, a retired professor of fine arts and humanities, Geneva College in Pennsylvania, authored 5 published books that focus on spare poems
and thoughtful personal essays. Lynda lives with her husband Bob, their 2 dogs and 6 cats. Lynda's love of nature, fine art, and history provide her dominate

Visit her blog at:

Her Books:

Her Author Page:

Part IV. The Writers’ Climb

Are you Nancy Scott? nonfiction First Place
by Nancy Scott

Monica gleefully calls to tell me the story. “I took it as a compliment,” she explains. “The head of the college English Department asked me if I was Nancy Scott.”

“Well,” I say, “he doesn't know who I am. I mean, you read a poem from print.”

“Right,” Monica agrees. “I didn't think about that.”

My visual collaborator could have mentioned me at her workshop at the college. The professor may have seen some of my poetry in her art books. My poet-friend who runs the college bookstore may have spoken of me.

Perhaps someone should tell Dr. Phillips who I am so he doesn't confuse me with the cadre of others with my name. But am I really still that Nancy Scott who chased bylines for 38 years?

I sometimes still want to be Barbara Crooker. She is published everywhere and she must know everything about markets and trends and energy. Early in my career, I told Barbara I wanted to be her when I grew up (I was around 40 at the time). We were at a local poetry reading. She laughed and said, “You're doing fine being you.”

But I am working more from an expanding distance of disability, age and not enough technological knowledge. These days I don't always force myself to the draft or the to do list. I don't think I'll reach one thousand career bylines. Although I'm glad to have over 925. And there are a few things pending because it's always good to have something “out there” searching for destiny.

Writing takes physical, mental and emotional energy. Writing requires finding and capturing moments of joy and discovery and questioning.

Writing has given me friends, discipline, and spiritual practices. And more funny encounters than you can shake a white cane at.

I have no clue what I might have done differently. I'm not brave. But writing teaches us to want our best effort. It teaches us how to finish a thing. Or maybe why to finish a thing. If meditation is highly-focused attention, then writing is my meditation.

Sometimes the money made buys cool things. I bought my Echo smart speaker with a check from sales made with my visual collaborator.

I've written what I felt I could write. I have taken classes and sought good criticism. I think I have a sense of audience now. But I always need lots of revision.

Many people think writing is magical. I don't cook much, so I think cooking is magical. People who show up when they are supposed to are magical. People who pay attention are magical.

Writing is paying attention on a page or screen. Writers develop better imaginations than many other people. I'd like to think we develop better intuitions.

I talk to people and ask questions and try for interesting engagement. I've encouraged many writing ideas. But how much of my now automatic curiosity came from needing writing ideas?

My first piece was published in Dialogue magazine in 1983. I'm more often the oldest writer in a room of writers and listeners. I will no longer climb to stages that have no railings. It's my new accessibility concern along with having a flat surface from which to read Braille. My page-turning thumbs are not as fast. My voice is not the smooth professional narrator. And staying awake past 10 p.m. is a struggle. Zoom helps because, without a camera, I can be mysterious.

I am downsizing for a future move to a senior community. The big cabinets that house Braille, including my writing, must go with me. I swear I'm going to take a winter soon and read everything to hone echoes of gold I can find. I bet Barbara Crooker has done that several times.

Almost every time I've been ill in these past many years, a byline has appeared to let me know I'm still worth saving. Recently, after an orthopedist and four physical therapy sessions, Disability Studies Quarterly decided to consider a piece if I changed the title. Of course I'll change the title.

Writing saved me. It gave me identity. I flirted with various destructions sure I wasn't capable enough. But the 5 a.m. robin kept singing; kept waking me up for something.

If I ever meet Dr. Phillips, would he be surprised? Would he be intrigued? Would he wish he never asked Monica the question that led to all this musing? Would I be happy to be Nancy Scott?

Bio: Nancy Scott’s over 925 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, The Mighty, and Yahoo News.

Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion, book excerpt
by Kelly Sargent


My Voice

I am Deaf.
My fingers speak.

A coiffed paintbrush in my grasp,
my voice streaks turquoise and magenta
across a parched canvas.
Vowels coo through thirsty linen.

Click-clacking keys with my mother tongue,
I chew hard consonants
and spit them out.
Sour, a scathing sonnet can be at dusk.

Fingertips pave slick exclamations,
punctuated by nails sinking low into clamminess.
I sculpt hyperboles.


Seeing Voices

My twin sister used to shut her eyes
to shut me up when we argued.
Born deaf, she held an advantage in any girlhood fight.
I had no choice but to be instantly
her eyelids,
a remote control when static sounded like me.

I would steady my hands in a signed
poised to whip the air in a justified retort.
Hands tired in one position though:
a pouting pinkie dangling from my palm.

If I caught her squinting one eye, I signed swiftly to get a word in,
nut-brown eyelashes cemented once more,
silencing my voice,
sheathing my words without permission.

Tap, tap, tap on the shoulder:
Listen to me.
Tap, tap, tap:
I have something to say …

I'm sorry. I was wrong.
You'll never know if you don't open your eyes
and hear me.

I'd reach out
to touch her hand.
I can't shout if I'm holding yours.

I miss her most on cloudy days.
I recall those rainy afternoons when we finger painted
under the kitchen's fluorescent bulb
and sipped Hawaiian Punch from smeared, aluminum cans;
quieter moments by necessity, but colored still
with goofy grins and funny red mustaches.

I slip away to my mirror in the bedroom
to see her nut-brown eyes gazing back at me.
I press my palm against the cool glass,
just to touch her hand again.


Kissing the Horizon

on the beach swings,
we used to watch the horizon bob —
where sunset unfolds in sleepy, dusty-rose hues
and sunrise yawns,
stretching golden limbs to greet the day.

The sun kissed the horizon that night,
preparing to bid us graceful farewell
with a promise to awaken us gently in a morning embrace.

Twilight rapped,
and we answered.
We engaged Night.

Moon’s obsession with the seas made solemn its ascension.
Eager winds wrestled for domination.
Distant mountains turned submissive
and acquiesced their muscular contours.

Cradled in wispy silver threads
cast by a spool of smattered stars, we were
wrapped securely in a vast, uninterrupted galaxy.

But holding the rusty chains on the swings
with both hands
made us mute.

Starlight wasn't enough.

too fragile a tether.

Tonight, swaddled by near-darkness,
I nestle on a chilled, tide-weathered beach
that swallows my memories
Sand slips between my fingers
like unspoken words on my hands.

At first light,
revelation kisses the horizon.

A mourning dove coos,
to remember.


Poetry in Motion

Though the light is dim,
our deafness need not flavor our reunion.
Twilight colors our handheld voices.

Swallowing candlelight that graces the table,
the glowing appetizer warms our throats
as we feast wide eyes on sweet and savory dishes
meant to linger in our bellies until long after midnight.

Sipping from crystals imbibed
with rosé for me and white for you,
we grow giddy between samples of moonlight,
creamy and smooth on crisp linen.

Fingers spin tales before firelight
as silver-bangled spools unwind syllables
and pastel-polished nails paint on invisible canvases.
Finger foods must remain a while longer on napkins …

There are stories to tell.

Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion Is available in print and in Kindle format from Amazon.

Bio: Kelly Sargent is a significantly hearing-impaired writer and artist who was born and adopted in Luxembourg with a deaf twin sister. Seeing Voices: Poetry in Motion, a Cordella Press Poetry Chapbook Contest finalist, speaks to her childhood experiences. She is also the author of Lilacs & Teacups, a book of modern haiku. Her poems and artwork have appeared in more than sixty literary publications, and she serves as the creative nonfiction editor of The Bookends Review. Learn more about her at


A special gift for you awaits. Twenty-three Behind Our Eyes poets answered an invitation from Charles Portolano to provide the material for the November 14, 2021 edition of The Weekly Avocet—a magazine dedicated to connecting nature with humanity. We sample apples, and watch pumpkins and pecans find new homes. Squirrels, prairie dogs, birds, and flowering bulbs seek sanctuary from colder weather. Corn stands tall, and bright and darkening foliage rustles underfoot.

Download our recording, and savor the season with us. Eighteen voices—male, female, high-pitched, and deep-toned—offer a variety of accents and excitement. Connect with us to mark changes in the weather, and to share personal experiences that highlight Autumn’s special moments.

You can download the recording of The Weekly Avocet on the Behind Our Eyes website at:

Front Yard Sketch, poetry Second Place
by Ria Meade

I have never painted what fills this canvas,
behind my lids.

Perched on an Adirondack,
a front yard tableau presents itself.

Mind shuffles traditional images,
an excitement of recognizable fragments

from sighted years.

My heart thumps, Yes! to the brain’s selection.
Mix of blues found in the “water sky”
last viewed in Montauk.
Clouds, masts, gulls-dusk blends them.

My picket fence remains, gate still unhinged,
imported from imagined cottage
on the Cape.
Gulls from each sea village
perched, at home.

Tickling the pickets,
a profusion of remembered blooms-
lilacs in abundance,
my father’s beloved dogwood,
so vulnerable.
Her pinkish white glories complete this landscape.

Now the open gate has function,
welcomes figures.
Humans known-recalled.
There are my guide dogs!
Spirits equal to the living stride in-
features free from illness,
stress, fears carried in life.
My Mother, two brothers, four friends,
gone so harshly, proof to this.

Sensations of sable brushes rattle between fingers.
I desire to dab kindness, joy,
more life to all there.
This space, a colorless lawn,
seemed forever empty.
My new interpretation-
exciting, thoughtful, a delight!

Close the paint box. Leave the porch.
Step with my dogs into our new front yard.
Have I captured the truth,
or is this a gift of the heart?

Bio: A native Long Islander, Ria Meade crafts poems about her adult life as a blind woman. Painting since childhood, her passion culminated with a degree in fine arts. Ria was working in New York City in 1982, when the childhood concern, Juvenile Diabetes, took her sight completely. Life changed dramatically and artistic passion took a back seat as she learned to deal with her blindness. Twenty-five years after losing her sight, she began to paint again with words.

Ria credits being saved by the eight Labrador Retriever guide dogs she has been paired with over the last thirty-eight years allowing her creativity to return in the form of her writings. She has recently completed her eighth self-published collection.

Mastiffs in Mysteries, nonfiction
by Marlene Mesot

The presence of dogs in mysteries is nothing new. Many mysteries feature military and police dogs, search and rescue dogs, and therapy dogs of various breeds. Some of the more common are golden retrievers, shepherds and labs.

Until recently not much has been written in fiction about the large working breed of mastiff. According to the online dictionary of etymology, the mastiff is a large, powerful breed of dog, apparently dating to ancient times, valued as a watchdog, mid-14th century. There are now four types of mastiffs: Neapolitan, Tibetan, Old English and now American. I will focus on the Old English as it is the most widely recognized in the U.S.

The reason I chose this gentle giant is because we have owned mastiffs since my husband and I were married. My late husband Albert was a breeder from 1980 to 2001. He had two mastiffs since 1971 and I still have two today. We also owned and operated a dog and cat boarding and grooming facility, Granite-T-Kennels in Milford NH, for seven years during the 1980s.

The black muzzle and loose skin are prominent characteristics of the breed. They can weigh from 120 to 180 pounds. There have been some weighing over two hundred pounds but that is not healthy for the dogs. Our largest dog, Tucker, weighed 180 pounds and wore a thirty-inch neck collar. You could actually reach out to pet him without bending as his head came to about waist level. The Old English mastiff comes in three colors, fawn (most common), apricot and brindle. Most mastiffs in books are fawn color.

In the beloved Andy Carpenter legal cozy mystery series by David Rosenfelt, book 9 One Dog Night, a mastiff is featured briefly as a minor character. Andy has to defend Bailey’s owner Noah against a mass murder charge. Bailey stays with the Carpenters in their home while Noah’s wife and son are sent out of state for protection. Noah’s father-in-law can’t take the dog as he is allergic. Andy does his best thinking while walking Tara his golden retriever who is in every book. This story is significant because Noah is Tara’s previous owner.

An Amazon ad for a mystery book had me staring at it, almost in disbelief. I kept asking myself, “Is that really a mastiff on that book cover?” I actually went to the website to “look inside” to read the beginning to see if I could verify what I thought my eyes were telling me. (Actually I only have sight in one eye but that’s beside the point.) Sure enough, in her Pet Psychic cozy mystery series, Shannon Esposito featured a mastiff in book 1, Karma’s a Bitch. The dog, named Sam, belonged to a homeless man who was murdered. I had hoped he would be part of the series, but he found a loving home before the book ended.

Probably the most famous mastiff to be featured in a mystery was actually a mastiff/bloodhound mix in The Hound of the Baskervilles, book 3 in the Sherlock Holmes series by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. After the horrific death of Sir Charles Baskerville, Dr Mortimer seeks the help of Holmes and Watson. Was Baskerville's death a result of an ancient family curse? Holmes and Watson follow the clues and examine the footprints.

One of my favorite mysteries of all time is Deception by Randy Alcorn. It is a tight, well researched and written story, the third book in a trilogy, Detective Ollie Chandler Mysteries. Detective Chandler owns a bull mastiff named Mike Hammer, nick name Mulch. But, the detective has to make a trip to Florida in one part of the story, where he visits with a policeman who happens to own mastiffs himself. This is a twisting tale with some humor and some heartwarming and heart wrenching parts.

In one of my favorite series, Raine Stockton Dog Mysteries by Donna Ball, there is a classic line in her novella All That Glitters. The star of this series is Raine’s golden retriever Cisco. It is another amazing cozy series with memorable characters and exciting stories. Near the end of the novella Raine says, “A mastiff stepped on my foot.” Most of the time they try to sit on your foot, especially in the kitchen.

Finally a mastiff makes it into a two-book series. This mastiff named Sam is still a minor character but he performs his duty as a guard dog and gets along well with the other canines in the books. The star of this series is a Saint Bernard named Paw. A Dog Detective Mystery series by Sandra Baublitz includes Book 1 Mastiffs Mystery and Murder and Book 2 Bassets and Blackmail.

I am thinking about adding a mastiff to my 4 Elements of Mystery series, in book 3 Whirlwind of Fear, currently in progress. Alex and Missy Marcus could use a guard dog.

Lavender Wings of Inspiration, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

While you, dear writer friend, were waiting for inspiration–
the beautiful, lavender-winged butterfly of inspiration–
I was writing.

While you, dear writer friend, were hoping for inspiration–
the easy flow of a muse's ethereal cape–
I was sitting at my desk, composing the first draft.

While you, dear writer friend, were reaching for inspiration–
the multi-colored flower-filled basket of ideas–
I was revising my document.

I do not wait for inspiration:
Through each breath of respiration, I inhale words, ideas, creative aspirations.
I do not delay: I write each day–
no matter the forecast for inspiration.

Writing is within my being:
I need not wait for inspiration.
all I need are an observant ear, a memory tear,
treasures from the past, traces of the present,
precious Time, and solitude at the keyboard of my computer.
Then, with or without the lavender wings of inspiration,
I write.

Dear writer friend,
do not wait for the lavender wings of inspiration.
Write with all that you have been,
all that you are, and
all that you hope to be.
Write, write well, write often;
and you will be a writer.

Bio: Celebrating thirty-two 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:


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.

A Dream of Drawing in the Dark, poetry
by Lynda McKinney Lambert

When drawing in the dark
visions and forms appear
then vanish quickly
moving across
The inner vision
of my night sky.

A panoramic vision
ever changing
highly charged
molton lava
when I draw in the dark
in the middle of the night.

“A Dream of Drawing in the Dark” was previously published in the following:
_Lambert, Lynda. Concerti: Psalms for the Pilgrimage, Kota Press, 2002.

ISBN 1-929359-18-
_Lambert, Lynda. Songs for the Pilgrimage, _ DLD Books,2021.


Why Grandma Doesn’t Know Me, Novel Excerpt
by Abbie Johnson Taylor


Sixteen-year-old Natalie's grandmother, suffering from dementia and confined to a wheelchair, lives in a nursing home and rarely recognizes Natalie. But one Halloween night, she tells her a shocking secret that only she and Natalie's mother know. Natalie is the product of a one-night stand between her mother, who is a college English teacher, and another professor. After some research, Natalie learns that people with dementia often have vivid memories of past events. Still not wanting to believe what her grandmother has told her, she finds her biological father online. The resemblance between them is undeniable. Not knowing what else to do, she shows his photo and website to her parents. Natalie realizes she has some growing up to do. Scared and confused, she reaches out to her biological father, and they start corresponding. Her younger sister, Sarah, senses their parents' marital difficulties. At Thanksgiving, when she has an opportunity to see Santa Claus, she asks him to bring them together again. Can the jolly old elf grant her request?


I hated walking with my mom and sister down that long, bright hallway in the nursing home where my grandma lived. The white tile floor and the ceiling covered with fluorescent lights reminded me of school. The only difference was that there were handrails on either side that old people could hold onto while they walked, so they wouldn’t fall.

The blare of television sets from just about every room we passed, laughter and chatter from the nurses' station, and announcements over the PA system made me wonder why Dad called this place a rest home. The sharp aroma of disinfectant reminded me of the monthly trips I'd made to the dentist years before to have my braces adjusted. I nearly gagged as I remembered the goop they put in my mouth so they could take impressions of my teeth before the braces were put on. The stench of poop and piss from some of the rooms was overpowering.

We finally reached Grandma’s room, and for once, there was silence and only the smell of her perfume. Her bed was next to the window, and she sat in her wheelchair, wearing white pants and a blue, checked blouse. Her curly gray hair was cut short and pushed away from her face. She had a roommate, but the other lady wasn’t there. It was just us.

When we walked into the room, her head was hanging down, but she raised it and gave us a blank look. My mother, as she did every Sunday when we came to visit, went up to her with a smile, kissed her cheek, took her hand, and said, “Hi, Mom.” Then she said, “Oh, I see you’re wearing that lovely blouse I got you for your birthday. It looks nice on you.”

Mom always complimented Grandma on the clothes she wore, most of which she had bought for her. It made me want to throw up.

She sat on the bed next to Grandma’s wheelchair and smiled as she said, “I’ve brought Natalie and Sarah to see you today.”

My younger sister walked up to Grandma without hesitating and took her other hand, as she always did when we visited her. “Hi, Grandma,” she said with a smile.

Grandma’s face broke into a big grin. “Sarah, how lovely you look today. How old are you now?”

“I’m ten,” answered Sarah with a grin of her own. “And my sister, Natalie, is here, too.”

She turned to me, but I stood where I was. I knew what would happen.

Grandma gave me one of her blank looks. “Who?”

“Mom, you remember Natalie,” my mother said. “She just turned sixteen last week. Natalie, don’t just stand there staring. Come say hello to your grandma.”

As I did each week, I walked up to her and said, “Hi, Grandma.”

She smiled, but I could tell she still didn't recognize me. She said, “Martha, she doesn't look a bit like you. Was she adopted?”

This conversation happened every week, but it still made my face grow hot.

“Of course not, Mom. Don't be silly. She just takes after her father's side of the family.”

“Bill?” Grandma's brow furrowed.

Who was Bill? I didn't know, and I didn't care.

Mom smoothed Grandma's brow with her other hand. “Sit down, girls. I've got something to read to you all.”

Without a word, Sarah and I sat on either side of Mom on Grandma's bed, facing the old woman in her wheelchair.

Every week when we visited, Mom brought something to read to us all that she thought Grandma would like. Usually, it was an article from Reader's Digest or one of the women's magazines she liked. Today, she pulled her iPhone out of her purse, made a few gestures, then said, “Here, Mom, this blog post has some quotes from Erma Bombeck.”

It was all I could do to keep from groaning. Just the previous week in my English class, we'd had to read an essay by Erma Bombeck and write about it. Yuck! I could have written a whole book about Lorde, but that didn't matter to my English teacher.

Anyway, Grandma smiled and said, “Oh, yes, Erma Bombeck writes some good stuff.” She'd apparently forgotten that Erma Bombeck was dead.

While Mom read a long list of quotes, Sarah and I shuffled our feet and twiddled our thumbs until one quote got our attention: “Your grandmother pretends not to know who you are on Halloween.”

“Halloween's on Tuesday!” said Sarah, smiling at Grandma. “I'm going to be a mermaid when I go trick-or-treating.”

“How lovely,” said Grandma with a smile. “I'd love to see you in your costume.”

“I saw a poster in the lobby advertising your Halloween party,” said Mom. “There'll be games for the kids, and they'll give you candy to hand out. Won't that be fun?”

“I'm sure that'll be nice,” said Grandma.

“Grandma, I love butterscotch candy,” said Sarah. “So be sure you have some when I come, okay?”

“I'll see what I can do, love bug,” said Grandma, ruffling Sarah's long blond hair.

“Daryl and I have play rehearsal that night,” Mom said, “but the girls will come.”

My heart sank. I was hoping the director of that play would give my folks the night off. Taking my little sister trick-or-treating was the last thing I wanted to do, especially when I'd been invited to the Halloween party of my best friend, Katrina.

Unable to stop myself, I said, “Grandma doesn't know who I am even when it isn't Halloween.”

“Natalie, don't be rude,” said Mom, giving me one of her disappointed looks.

Grandma sighed. “She's right, dear. I don't remember her. But Natalie, that's not your fault. Nobody chooses to be put on this earth.”

That was the grandma I remembered from when I was little. She was always telling me that nobody chose to be put on this earth. As far as I knew, she'd never told Sarah that.

My little sister now said, “What do you mean, Grandma?”

It was Mom's turn to sigh. “Honey, your grandma is trying to say that God created us and we had no say in the matter.”

Grandma wrinkled her nose as if she could smell the poop from the room down the hall.

Our house was only a few blocks away from the nursing home. Later, as we walked home, Sarah said, “Mom, Grandma doesn't like God, does she?”

“Honey, your grandma doesn't believe like we do,” said Mom.

“If she doesn't believe,” I said, “why does she always tell me we don't choose to be put on this earth? She doesn't tell Sarah that.”

Sarah shook her head, and Mom said, “Well, she doesn't believe in God, necessarily, but she believes that a being of some sort chooses whether we're born.”

“I don't think so,” said Sarah. “I chose to be born to you, Mom, because you're so pretty.”

“Oh, you silly girl,” said Mom. They stopped walking, and she and Sarah hugged each other.

Disgusted, I kept going. I'd wasted an entire afternoon when I could have hung out at Katrina's. We could have done each other's nails and listened to the new Lorde album that Dad had given me for my birthday. But no, I had to visit my stupid grandma, who never knew who I was anymore, and listen to my mom read stupid quotes by a stupid author. And now I'd have to take my stupid little sister trick-or-treating on Halloween instead of going to Katrina's party. It was too much.

Why Grandma Doesn’t Know Me is available at:

Jesus is Bangala! book review
by Chris Kuell

The past few decades of my life have been filled with changes. Topping the list are the birth of my children, the loss of my sight, a kidney transplant, and my transformation from research chemist into fiction writer. I became blind from complications of diabetes. I lost my job, sank into depression, then began the journey of rebuilding a new life as a blind guy in a sighted world.

Like many people in their mid-thirties, family, career and life obligations left little time or energy to pursue reading as I once did. Blindness gave me that time and audio books gave me the ability to read again. I began by listening to books on philosophy and the Holocaust, which helped me develop a better perspective on life and its perplexities. I rekindled my love for a good story, catching up on much of the classic fiction I missed growing up. In those early years, audio books also provided friends and family a great outlet when looking to buy me gifts.

My wife gave me The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver for Christmas back in the early 2000s. It was newly out on tape, and I wasn’t sure it merited the large purchase price. A week later I wanted to buy it for everyone I knew.

Recorded books can be a great cure for insomnia, but in this case, I found myself listening late into the night, unable to stop until the end of the chapter, then unable to resist starting the next. Kingsolver weaves an intricate tale which expertly delves into issues of family, race and religion. An arrogant Baptist preacher takes his wife and four daughters on a missionary trip to the Belgian Congo in 1959. I read with fascination as the family crumbled along with the Congolese government, gaining insight into a time and place that is often misunderstood.

I am a fan of the character driven novel, and Kingsolver is a master at engaging the camera of the imagination. It had been years since I’d encountered such vivid characters, all of whom fascinated me as they struggled in their own ways to survive what life had dealt them.

I cringed as the self-righteous preacher destroyed his family by refusing to modify his Western ideas. I sympathized with Orleanna as she struggled between the pull of her maternal instinct and her role as good preacher's wife. Kingsolver provides a brilliant depiction of the world of Adah, the twin daughter who suffered from hemiplegia. With one side of her brain defective, she spoke little yet entertained profound thoughts, often in the form of palindromes. Leah, the other twin, was caught up in trying to please her deteriorating father, and Rachel, the tall blonde teenager who fascinated the natives, never
saw much past her own petty woes.

Although I can no longer physically see, great writing fills the screen of my imagination. After finishing The Poisonwood Bible, I kept visualizing the fire ants as they ate their way through the entire village. I heard the crazy preacher as he proclaimed, “Jesus is Bangala!”, and mispronounced the Congolese word for “savior” so it meant “poisonwood,” a harsher African version of poison Ivy. I felt angry at the needless corruption of a simple people as careless governments played their games. Among the many details of the book, one particular thought persisted–I’d love to write like that.

Shortly after reading The Poisonwood Bible, I began writing short stories. I managed to get a few published, and placed in a couple contests. Now I’m busy polishing my third novel. I'm devouring books by great writers to learn how they transform words into characters who captivate us and make us feel deeply
what it is to be human. My goal is to someday write stories such as The Poisonwood Bible, with well fleshed out characters who illuminate us through breathtaking detail and attention to our emotional world. Stories that don't shy away from difficult or even taboo issues. Stories that refuse to let the reader go away unchanged.

Bio: Chris Kuell is a writer, editor and advocate living in Connecticut. A former research chemist, he lost his sight as a result of diabetic retinopathy. He
learned how to use a computer with speech output and turned his efforts to writing. His essays and stories have appeared in a number of literary, and a
few not-so-literary, magazines, journals and newsletters. He is also the editor of Breath and Shadow, an online literary journal of disability culture
and ideas.

Part V. The Book Shelf

The Silent Dolls By Rita B. Herron
Reviewed by Kate Chamberlin

What little girl doesn't want a doll of her own? In “The Silent Dolls” by Rita B. Herron almost a dozen little girls fall for the stranger's ploy of having their own, hand-carved doll and going to see a beautiful doll house. The girls are never found again along the evergreen strewn and rocky cliffs of the Appalachian Trail.

This story exploits a variety of psychological and physical fears, from a child's fear of the dark and spiders, a child's rage at being abandoned, a parent's fear of losing a child, re-occurring night-mares, career insecurities, personal values, as well as maybe a dark and stormy night.

Herron does a good job of casting doubt and suspicion on several possible perpetrators of the abduction, layering multiple motives and opportunities to keep the reader guessing until the end. We're never sure if it is the Chief of Police Reeves, Ranger Chords, FBI Agent Fox's father, or some deranged stranger. Detective Ellie Reeves's discoveries will astound you.

Phoebe Zimmermann narrates this for NLS with a voice appropriate for the suspense, mystery, and drama of the narrative; however, you might not want to read/listen this story at bed-time.

I enjoyed reading this book, although, I have a 'spoiler alert' for Senior High Students and Adults who will also enjoy “The Silent Dolls. This is the first book in a proposed series, so there are several threads left dangling and may not be a satisfying ending for some readers. We'll have to stay tuned for Book II in the series.

I recommend The Silent Dolls by Rita B. Herron: ISBN-13: 9781838887612: Storyfire Ltd: Pages: 334. (NLS/BARD/LOC: DB104653)

Shardik: A Spiritual Odyssey
a review of Shardik by Richard Adams
by Brad Corallo

“Superstition and accident manifest the will of God.” The above book opens with this quote from CG Jung. And, the book explores and stays true to this principle throughout. Initially it was released on talking book records in 1976 with an amazing read by the acter Lester Rollins. Its initial publication was in 1974. Recently, the commercial audio book version was finally made available by BARD once again following its most recent fortieth anniversary, 2014 addition. In the new introduction by the author, he stated that he believes that Shardik is his finest novel; written after three years of painstaking research. Some may remember the author's first book: Watership Down which was an international best seller that spawned several film adaptations.

Shardik is an enormous bear that is believed to embody the power of God by the inhabitants of an island (Ortelga) in the great Telthearna river. They are a people fallen from their long past rule of a vast empire. It should be noted that Adams has created a complete, detailed, fictional setting for the story which includes a map in the original hard cover version.

It was prophesied that Shardik would return to his people one day and the book opens with this return through fire and water. The lore and worship of Shardik is kept alive by a congregation of devout women who reside on another island (Quiso) down river from Ortelga. Shardik is initially revealed to a simple hunter who braves many perils to bring the knowledge of the bear's return to his people.

There are very different beliefs in regard to the meaning of Shardik's return. Suffice it to say that in an extremely unlikely attempt, the Ortelgans manage to regain their former empire which is known as Bekla. The hunter (Kelderek) becomes the Priest-King of Becla and direct point of contact to Shardik's divine power.

The women of Quiso maintain that all of this is a sacrilegious abuse of the power of God and through complex circumstances Kelderek is forced to leave Becla to follow Shardik who escapes with the unintended assistance of an enemy of the Beclan empire.

Many adventures befall Kelderek and Shardik and the book proceeds through war, slave dealing and the effort to discover the divine message that Shardik has returned to reveal.

This unusual, occasionally dark novel explores the nature of religious faith, individual spiritual journeys and ultimately the true revelation which Shardik brings to humanity.

This is a very well written, beautifully descriptive novel with highly developed engaging, complex, primary characters. It is a work that, at times is highly disturbing, deeply suspenseful that undeniably offers a great deal of food for thought. John Lee who narrates this new 23 hours+ recording has done a superb job.

I just completed my fifth reading over a 45-year period. Suffice it to say that Shardik is one of the most important books I have read that truly has had a significant influence on my life. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Chasing History: A Kid in the Newsroom by Carl Bernstein
reviewed by Marilyn Brandt Smith

Macmillan, 2022
Available on Kindle, Audible, Bookshare, and BARD as DB106783

This memoir is a seventy-eight-year-old renowned investigative reporter’s dramatic revisit to his first six years in journalism. He is probably best known by many as the coauthor of the book, and as portrayed in the movie, All the President’s Men.

If you’re looking for political exposé, this is not your book. The young adult feeling is the magic Bernstein creates. He makes costly and sometimes hilarious mistakes, and takes risks while learning how to choose priorities, select mentors, and embrace the passion of the loud, urgent, and unpredictable nature of the newsroom. Bernstein takes us back to the year he turned sixteen, 1960, and shows his evolution from a kid with no goals and no interest in school to a goal-oriented news man reaching for a front page byline.

Readers visit with him the Washington, D.C. nighttime dives; the Kennedy candidacy, inauguration, and funeral; and two marches on Washington. He learns to accept what television can do that newspapers can’t, and finally concedes The Evening Star is not where he needs to be working.

He inherits much of his parents’ cause momentum, especially where racial issues and Washington home rule are concerned. He can’t find a parking place for college in his busy life. He does find time on leap day 1964 to make a quickie run, marriage in mind, with his own personal Brenda Starr from the newsroom. What seemed to be a bad experience in New York brought him front page news, and the status he needed to land a position as a reporter at The Washington Post.

Bernstein narrates the prologue and epilogue. In his typical “I can’t let this go until I know how it ends” dedication to reporting, he favors his readers with the “What happened to…” accounts for all the important characters in this book.

After reading this book, I was so captured by his almost electric style that I read his other books that are available on BARD: All the President’s Men (DB50574), The Final Days (DB58703), and The Secret Man: the Story of Watergate’s Deep Throat (DB60705). I thought I had heard more than all I wanted to know about Watergate, but he and Bob Woodward held my attention throughout with their dynamic treatment of mystery and their detailed profiling.

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:

The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World by Charles C. Mann
reviewed by Cleora Boyd

640 pages
audio read by Bronson Pinchot

Nonfiction Biography, Biology, ecology, environment, science, history

In 40 years earth's population will reach 10 billion. Can our world support that? What kind of world will it be? Those answering these questions generally fall into two deeply divided groups the writer refers to as Wizards and prophets. The Prophets, he explains, agree with William Vogt, a founding environmentalist who believed that in using more than our planet has to give will lead us to ruin. “Cut back!” was his mantra, otherwise, everyone will lose! The wizards are the followers of Norman Borlaug whose research paved the way to produce modern high yield crops that then saved millions from starvation. “Innovate!” was Borlaug’s cry! Only in that way can everyone win!

Without taking sides, Mann delves into these diverging viewpoints to assess the four great challenges humanity faces–food, water, energy, climate change–grounding each in historical context and weighing the options for the future. With our civilization on the line, the author’s insightful analysis is an essential addition to the urgent conversation about how our children will fare on an increasingly crowded earth.

At the start, Mann discusses how the Wizard spent decades developing crops that were disease and insect resistant resulting in higher yields that saved millions from starvation. Historically, It terms out, we are not the first generations to genetically modify crops. Chemical fertilizers have helped to improve poor soils, but what about the effects of these artificial nutrients on our environment. Commercial fertilizer gets into the water feeding weeds and algae and other aquatic organisms that die and rain to the bottom feeding microbes that use up all the oxygen killing most life creating dead zones. If it weren’t for the o-zone issue the fertilizer issue would be the greatest problem facing our world today.

He goes on to discuss in some detail The pros and cons of alternative energy, and many other issues that are critical to our survival. His historical perspective provides the important information about how we got where we are today so we can understand the challenges that humanity will face as the 21st Century progresses, and how we might solve the problems presented by a finite world of 10 billion humans. This is an amazing book that delivers the facts so the reader can make up his or her own mind.

Charles Mann, born 1955, is an American author and journalist specializing in scientific topics. He is the best selling award winning author of 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, and 1493: Uncovering the New World Columbus Created. He is a contributing editor for Science Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, and Wired Magazine. He has also written for Fortune, The new York Times, Smithsonian, Technology Review, Vanity Fair, The Washington Post as well as the TV Network HBO and the Series Law & Order.
The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and Their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World is available in hardcover, paperback as well as in Kindle format from Amazon.

Bio: As a person with Retinitis Pigmentosa, Cleora Boyd first pursued a career in Accounting. After receiving a B.S. degree in Math from Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas, she went on to obtain employment with a major pharmaceutical corporation in Fort Worth, Texas, where she still lives. Now retired, she joined a writing group, enjoys reading, taking adult education courses, watching TV with her cockatiel Dusty, and writing about whatever
may be on her mind. Her creations have found a home in Magnets & Ladders
and Consumer vision. Cleora also writes under the names Sly Duck and C.
S. Boyd.

Putting Away Childish Things: The Virgin Birth, the Empty Tomb, and Other Fairy Tales You Don't Have to Believe to Have a Living Faithby Uta Ranke-Heinemann
reviewed by Susan Muhlenbeck

Those of us who received religious training at an early age by the church were taught to believe, not to think, certainly not to question the Bible. To question what is written in the Scriptures is to question a person's faith according to the theologians. Most questions can't be answered by the theologians with any degree of certainty. As Children grow, they inevitably begin to develop a mind of their own and wonder about what they were taught to believe.

After reading the first chapter of this book, which is about Luke's fairy tale, I felt like the “rug had been pulled out from under me”, and I was intrigued enough to continue to read. By the time I finished reading this book, I had a clearer understanding of what the New Testament was all about and how it should be interpreted.

The Gospel of Luke states that Mary and Joseph had to take a trip to Bethlehem because the emperor wanted to do a census of the Jewish people. No census was performed due to the fact that the Romans were not interested in the Jewish population: therefore, there was no reason for Mary and Joseph to take a trip to Bethlehem. Interestingly enough, if there had been a census, Joseph would have gone to Bethlehem by himself according to custom, not with his very pregnant wife. The dates of the census and the birth of Christ were also contradictory according to the different Gospels. The ancient texts proved that the story of Jesus Christ being born in a manger and the three wise men (astrologers) visiting them, and everything else surrounding His birth could not have happened the way it was told. It made me wonder what other inaccuracies were in the New Testament.

The Bible claims that Jesus Christ was the product of a virgin birth. Christianity seems to be the only religion where a virgin birth is highly unusual. Most Pagan religions are full of stories of virgins giving birth to a Messiah or some other divine being, and that is how the virgin birth of Jesus got its roots. If nothing else, the genealogy of Christ claims that it would have been impossible for a virgin birth to have taken place. Jesus was supposedly descended from the House of King David from the Old Testament. The Person who was descended from King David was Joseph, Christ's so-called stepfather, not Mary of Nazareth. Very little is known about Jesus Christ's biography. We don't know exactly when or where he was born or died, what kind of child he was, or what kind of relationship He had with his parents. It was very disconcerting to realize just how little of Him we actually know.

Another fairy tale about Jesus is that He performed countless miracles, everything from turning water into wine to raising the dead. Most people can agree that these miracles had to take place in order for people to believe that He was the Messiah. A lot of these miracles, such as turning water into wine, stem from ancient Pagan myths. Dionysus, the ancient Greek wine god, was purported to turn water into wine way before Jesus was born. The Old Testament prophet Elisha and Christ's disciples Peter and Paul also supposedly raised people from the dead, so Jesus was not alone in performing that astounding

The author continues to point out improbabilities and impossibilities throughout the New Testament. She goes into great detail about how Judas the Traitor didn't exist, how Jesus was buried in a mass grave with the two thieves who were crucified along with Him, and how there was no empty tomb on Easter. If there had been an empty tomb, the Apostle Paul, the first Christian writer, would have made reference to it in his letters, and no such reference was made. The author points out that the resurrection is not in body but in spirit, and the ascension is metaphorical.

Perhaps the most absurd story in the New Testament is that the loving and merciful God we know ordered His “son” to die such a painful and cruel death to save the world from eternal damnation. What kind of God would demand such a thing, and what kind of God would condemn the world to such a horrible fate? The author also talks about the concept of hell as we know it and how uncertain death is.

Ranke-Heinemann was able to convince me that all the fairy tales of the New Testament are not important. It doesn't matter that Jesus was not a product of a virgin birth, and that he didn't perform a bunch of miracles, and that the reason He died such a wretched death on the cross was not to save the world from hell, or even that we know so little about His life. The important thing is the message He brought with Him and His teachings. The only thing that matters is the miracle of a loving and merciful God. I was glad that the author was able to iron out some of the absurdities presented in the New Testament, and my faith was not shaken in the least. I feel more comfortable with my relationship with God than ever before. It is also important to note that nobody should believe everything he or she is told without doing their own research. This book talks a lot about life during the first century from a historic, political and religious perspective. If those topics capture your interest, then let this book be just an introduction.

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/Tarot card reader, 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.

Painting is an Act of Belief
Les Fauves by Barbara Crooker
reviewed by Lynda McKinney Lambert

Les Fauves is a series of sixty-two poems divided into four sections. A series of paintings created from 1899 to 1937 inspire the poems in this book. The lyrics show a more comprehensive history than the official period for The Fauves movement (1888 to 1906).

Crooker presents a literary exploration into the roots of modern art with selected key paintings by members of a small group of French artists known as Les Fauves. The meaning of this name is The Wild Beasts. The most notable artists are Henri Matisse, whose paintings appear in Section I. Sections 2 and 3 are not based on specifically named artists. Finally, in Section 4, she presents poems inspired by Vincent van Gogh, Pierre Bonnard, Seurat, Raoul Dufy, and Georges Braque. In the fourth section, she finds themes in several artists and artworks from the earliest years of the Impressionists, and she moves forward into the post-Impressionists. The Fauve period is sandwiched in-between those two.

From the first poems in section 1, readers enter into the world of postmodernism. Writing in English and French, Barbara tells the stories and histories of two worlds, including their contemporary society and the earlier world views of the artists and their paintings. Two languages, two distinctly different periods. Barbara Crooker defines a post-modernist world view while glancing through the lens of the Modernists – Les Fauves. The book is a collection of exquisite contemporary poems inspired by paintings and drawings. In a sense, Barbara Crooker creates new poetry out of the techniques used in the pictures created over a century ago. Crooker takes readers on an intriguing journey from the very first poem in Les Fauves.

By choosing the period that she used for her artists and paintings, she sets the historical context preceding the new art movement and focuses on works by artists that followed The Fauves. Crooker combined imagery from the past with her contemporary thoughts and musings to create pictures of constellated time.


The main aspects of the Fauve artists are
_primacy of color
_a solid desire to define Modernism

Crooker chose the particular period as a critique of Modernism by using post-Modernist language and thought. Keep these goals in mind while reading the book.

Part I: 15 poems

Each painting described in the verses in this section dates between 1905 through 1937, near the end of the Fauve’s prominence.
All artworks discussed in these poems in Section 1 are by Henri Matisse, the most prominent leader of Les Fauves.

In the opening poem, “Landscape at Collioure (1905),” readers meet Henri Matisse. In the poem he describes the experience of being outside, with a focus on the Earth and the sky. This poem immediately gives us the primary philosophical requirement for a Fauve painting – the celebration of bold, even shocking, color. Notice the active verbs.
Color must be a physical act, created in new ways. The pigment shows the artist’s feelings and emotions about the people and the places he paints. Grass can be purple and blue – it is not necessarily green. A person’s face can be a variety of unexpected and stunning hues. Color selections reflect the desires of the artist. Color and texture make thick layers. Color is a building block, and it is like looking at buildings built from the bottom up. The paintings invite viewers to touch them to experience the artist’s energy at work.

Readers are given a window to peer through into the painted world of Matisse, where we find one of the most prominent themes of the Fauve movement – voyeurism and looking. We view this world through the eyes of the poet as she is seeing the Matisse landscape. Soon, we realize we are privy to the poet’s thoughts, and we enter into her contemporary world at the same time as she describes the scene. Listen for the description of the senses and the colors:


“Landscape at Collioure, 1905,

This hillside is the shade of grape soda,
lawn an ooze of electric jaundice,
and the sky is a violet slither. The red,
blue, and green trees are dancing, supple and sinuous, and the leaves are singing, a riot
of light. He squeezed out red-orange-like plastic explosives. Painting is an act of belief.”

Notice that Inside and Outside merge –
Crooker focused on the entire landscape first.
That was followed by noticing the lawn;
Finally, details of the sky, trees, leaves. The focus moves from the wide-angle view of the world to the macro view of minor parts. Nothing is too short of describing.
In the final line, the poet speaks the words of Matisse to describe the act of painting, which is
An act of belief.

“Figs”, is the final poem of Section 1. It describes Crooker’s feelings about the past artists and writers she encounters in this book. She uses the poetic I to speak as she describes “an encounter with
a young woman I had met the night

The woman offers her a ripe fig. They split the fig and share it. It has beauty and tastes good.
The physical aspects of the fig are described in Fauvist textures and colors:

Dark violet chocolate

with a greenish flesh, blood-red pulp,

The “ripe fig” becomes a metaphor for the history of thought, language, and artistic progress. Those who are creators in arts and literature possess these qualities. Crooker opened this poem with a quote by the Prophet Mohammed because he believed the fig to be worthy of being in Paradise.
Language and grammar, combined with history, are post-modernist techniques. Section I introduces the complexity of this period in art and literature.

“The seeds embroidered our teeth.”

This line contrasts two art and literary movements – modernist and post-modernist.



If I should wish a fruit brought to Paradise, it would certainly be the fig. ~The Prophet Mohammed

I was staying in a village in southwest France,
trudging up the steep hill to the boulangerie
for my daily baguette. On the way back, I saw.

A young woman I had met the night
before. In her hands, a ripe fig, which
we split. Dark violet chocolate

With a greenish flesh, blood-red pulp,
it opened with a thumbprint’s thrust.
The seeds embroidered our teeth.

I barely knew enough words to thank her,
my mumbled tongue, clenched teeth, dumb
as the stones under our feet. I crunched the grit,

my mouth filled with fruit and new syllables.
Even the fog, lifting from the river, which had
no language of its own, began to speak.”

In Sections 2 and 3, Crooker provides no dates or individual artists. Instead, she opens up the world of poetry with ideas sprinkled throughout the entire book.

Some examples from sections 2 and 3 are:

“Listen” (inspired by Psalms 51 (p. 25)
“This American Life is focused on 1950s music, clothing, foods, dance, and war.” (p. 28)
“Grammar Lesson” (p.32)
“The Beauty Trap” (p. 46)


“Drawing is the root of everything.”
Vincent van Gogh

Section 4 is the final part of the book.

The poet selected paintings that date from 1888 to 1932.
This section is where readers encounter a variety of artists and pictures. In the artworks of this section, additional members of The Fauves offer a contrast with the prior art.

The Fauves feels like an art history discussion in the form of poetry. By palimpsestic layering ideas in language and imagery construction, Barbara Crooker created meaning.

Vincent Van Gogh inspires two poems:
“Ink” (p.59)
“Dreaming on Paper” (p.60)

The last line is a quote of Van Gogh’s.
~Vincent Van Gogh: The Drawings,
Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2005

These two poems give readers a feel of motion of van Gogh’s hands and the weight of the tools in his hands as he worked at his craft. Some examples of this sense of heft and touch are clear.

“cross-hatched the paperwork fields

of Arles…trees in winter…”

She speaks in the poem of the bones of the paintings – the things that came before

Paper and Ink, cheaper than canvas and paint.

Could The Fauves have broken new ground in painting if they did not see the work of Vincent van Gogh? His oozing and vivid color applied in a frenzy of passion? It was he who came before. Crooker also stands in a place provided by the artists who came before her.

In this collection of contemporary poems: Drawing is the root of everything.

Note: Barbara Crooker has authorized the use of lines and poetry from Les Fauves for this review by Lynda Lambert.

Les Fauves, by Barbara Crooker, is available on Amazon. Visit her Authors Page on Amazon.
Read it Here!

An earlier version of “Painting is an Act of Belief” was previously published In Wordgathering, 2017.

Part VI. From a Different Perspective

Imagine, nonfiction Honorable Mention
by Marcia J. Wick

I try to imagine. In 1942, at age 18, my Dad stepped into the cabin of a B-24 bomber for the first time. Were there steps at his disposal, or did he Hop onto the wing before boarding? What was he thinking when he strapped himself into the navigator's seat, behind the pilot, in front of the bombardier?

As a young recruit, Dad was briefly taught to navigate with a sextant by the stars in the northern hemisphere before being assigned to fly out of Australia under the mirror-opposite southern skies. Forty missions he flew over the Pacific, an inflatable mattress hidden under his shirt in embarrassment because he wasn't a strong swimmer. Once, he mistakenly left his sextant behind, terrified he couldn't guide his crew back to base safely, desperate not knowing if he would ever return alive to his Indianapolis home.

On a brief leave from the fear of dying, Dad met Nancy, an Australian wartime volunteer. He fell in love for the first time. Did they couple or enjoy only one dance? Either way, my father remembered that special woman for a lifetime, although she wasn't the woman he eventually married.

After his service in WWII, Dad returned to Indiana to complete his education. At Purdue, he met my Mom, his wife of nearly 70 years. Despite the long passage of time, Dad never forgot his first love, nor the friends and innocence he left behind.

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

Old Men's Dreams, poetry
by Winslow Parker

White linen glows, lit by gleaming silver candelabra.
Elegant China cradles delicate pastries;
Aged wines crimson cut crystal.
We toast the fulfilling of life-long dreams;
Raise glasses to our intellects, foresight, and insight
Our sagacious military strategies,
Our bravery in the face of great danger,
Our invincibility.

From deep underground in our air-conditioned bomb-proof bunker,
We celebrate the dreams of impotent old men
Made real in the slaughtered bodies of our nation's youth.

Carpe Diem, poetry
by Donnie Smith

Why fit in when you were,
born to stand out.
You are sturdy of sureness,
not a quisling of doubt.
Your strength lies in your heart,
mind, love, and your soul.
Call upon them often.
and dare to be bold.

When you stand alone, life,
will never be fair.
You are lied about and gossiped,
but why should you care.
Seize the day always,
when push comes to shove.
Let slip not the dogs of war,
but the lions of your love.

Bio: Donnie Smith has had a gradual hearing loss. He eventually received a cochlear implant. Because of his hearing loss, he is an exceptional reader and he loves many forms of literature. He has degrees from Abilene Christian College in accounting and Education. He is a special education teacher.

Dreaded Snow, poetry
by John Masterson

Snow swirls on the basketball court below
Chasing itself
Whipping up into a storm
WTAE says it's going to get worse
I pray to the puppet weatherman
Inside the TV shrine
If it snows too hard
My parents won't be able to get through
To take me home for the weekend
That means staying here with a strange weekend staff
Who don't know me
Saturday movies as substitutes for mom and dad
And Santa Clauses from the Elks and Moose
With whiskey on their breath
And generic presents that held no warmth

After the parties
The nurses go around
Confiscating the candy
I sit in the empty children's playroom
Pondering my problem with the snow
I look at the round holes in the window sills
Some hastily smeared with putty
I wonder when they took the bars out
And when they're going to put them back
Problems, problems, problems
They want me to solve alone
And I have a premonition they'll never end

When I first came to this place
I was afraid of the head nurse
With the enormous bosom
She looked like
A black widow spider
With her poisonous venom stored in those massive sacs
I'm older now
Nearly ten
And she still scares me

I stare down the long dark corridor and shutter
It has something to do with my future
But I can't see the end
What can I do to make people like me
Or at least leave me alone?

Passing, nonfiction
by Marcia J. Wick

Congratulations, you passed the test. Congress has passed a law that you support. Pass the salt. Pass right on by the obnoxious guy on the subway, and take advantage of the passing lane to bypass slower drivers on the road. Even passing at the end of life earns you a heavenly reward.

But what about the concept of passing as able-bodied when you're a person with a disability? Passing as “normal” might have short-term advantages- you may be accepted into the club, invited to play the games, catch the eye of a prospective partner, and welcomed as a worthy adversary. Yet, passing as non-disabled also has its disadvantages. You'll have to work harder to fit in while hiding your disability. Internally, you may feel ashamed and inadequate. You'll be forced to over-compensate, putting yourself at risk of bodily harm while trying to prove you can perform without special accommodations.

Speaking from experience, it's easy to pass with progressive vision loss during its early stages. Subtle changes are imperceptible for months or even years at a time. One morning when I looked in the mirror, I struggle to apply my make-up. Like my hair turning grey, the change was gradual – until it's was obvious. While I could shop for hair dye to restore my natural color, with some forms of vision loss like mine, there was no product on the shelf that could help. Despite my denial, corrective lenses and wishful thinking wouldn't restore my lost sight. Still, pride may push us to pass as long as we're able.

You can insist on signing up for the extreme single-track cycling event but take a ride in an ambulance afterwards. You can volunteer to help build a house for Habitat for Humanity but drive nails into the insulation. You may show up at your high school reunion without a white cane but be tagged as a drunk before you even find your way to the bar. You can brag among friends about your accomplishments but you'll sweat and fret through sleepless nights knowing that your subterfuge eventually will be revealed.

It's only a matter of time until you'll attend an important meeting with mismatched socks, attempt to pay a fifty dollar tab with a ten, or break that precious antique tea cup cherished by your grandmother.

Crashing into a brick wall hurts. Bruises, black eyes, and bloody knees may cause others to wonder if your spouse is abusive. You might be lucky and recover your balance a few times after stepping off an unseen curb, until one day your low vision causes a fall that results in injury. Pushing the envelope, driving with low vision is especially dangerous. You may trigger a traffic accident that results in property damage…or worse.

Passing as able-bodied is a way of coping but it's draining. Save your energy for doing the best you can under already-difficult circumstances. But don't despair or crawl under a rock. Turn the table. It's time to admit and accept your sight impairment.

Become an advocate within your community. Show solidarity with your disabled peers. Challenge stereotypes. We are more than our disability. Despite sight loss, we can still garden and conjure up a gourmet meal, take a tandem parachute jump out of a plane, raise children, write a book, work for a living, and clean our own home. Become an activist and demand inclusion despite your disability.

We have an opportunity to influence the ableist views of society. We have a responsibility to advocate for disability inclusion. Consider that passing only reinforces ableism in our society. If we're uncomfortable being honest among able-bodied co-workers, our co-workers won't learn to appreciate the abilities of people with disabilities. Expect integration and inclusion without apology. Non-visibly disabled people especially are encouraged to “come out” and claim a positive self-identity, countering deeply embedded ablest ideas about the inferiority of disabled people.

With ownership of your disability comes acceptance, even pride. Take a deep breath and relax. No more masking, hiding, or pretending. No need to over-compensate, compromise, or sacrifice. Self-advocacy is the best way to help yourself and pave the way for others. That being said, lighten up. It's okay to chuckle if a friend suggests going on a blind date. If you can't joke about expressions like being blind-sided, the blind leading the blind, blind as a bat, flying blind, and losing your way down a blind alley, who can?

Cry Wolf, poetry
by Gretchen Brown

They say that if the wolf comes
you should scream until your throat is raw.
They say that if the wolf comes
you should use your teeth,
claw at his eyes
go for the throat,
the vulnerable places.
You know and understand anatomy,
you know where the pain points are.
But your hands only know how to heal the pain,
not cause it.

When the wolf came,
you did not cry.
You stood there
and let the wolf attack you.
He growled and bared his teeth,
warning you of danger,
but you were frozen like the prey that you are,
too afraid to move.
Your brain screamed
that the wolf would try to kill you,
and still you stood there,
and once you could move again,
you ran away.
Hid deep within your cave.

But when the wolf came knocking at your door,
you let him in.

How dare you cry wolf now
when the wolf is running away,
How dare you cry wolf now,
when you are the one who let him inside.

It is too late to cry wolf now,
he has left you bloody and broken on the floor,
and you must rebuild your life
from the dust he left behind.

Bio: Gretchen Brown is a Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant from Indiana. She loves writing about and exploring nature. She loves taking long walks with her Leader dog and hopes to find a job very soon. Gretchen is blind.

An Integral Part of Life, poetry
by Brad Corallo

Leaden, evening sky hangs over the salt marsh.
Carefully picking a way through the tidal flats
a young girl comes upon the body of a dead seagull.
Half-closed lids reveal lifeless deep brown eyes.
Crushed feathers and the neck at an unnatural angle,
cause of death cannot be determined by casual observation.
She is assailed by conflicting emotions
certainly sorrow but with a sense of disbelief
that such a creature can be so clearly dead.
The stark vulnerability of the inanimate corpse,
seeming somehow too final and unreal.

As she makes her uneasy, disconcerted way home over the weathered flats-
she meets an old man who daily combs the shore and tide pools.
She turns and points at the dead seagull.
Giving her a penetrating look, he speaks.
A Voice like rusty metal and trodden oyster shells, declaims:
“anything, powerful or weak, free or caged, tame or wild, beautiful or unsightly
ultimately will be killed by something.
Expected or unforeseen, the inevitability of death
Is an integral part of life.”
As they head in opposite directions she wonders how such can be true,
and, when and how her moment of inevitability will come.
As she comes in sight of the lights of home
she whispers to herself:
“even if it is true, the thing I don't understand, is why?”

Move Over Boomer, fiction Honorable Mention
by Greg Pruitt

President Robert Owen Trunch, the recently elected President of the United States, had a problem, the overwhelming weight of the national debt. He had campaigned on his claim that he alone had a plan to solve the looming economic crisis, but once in office, he realized that the solution was not so simple.

Trunch's election represented a sea change in American politics. The torch had been passed to a new generation, with nearly two generations having been bypassed in that process. His predecessor, a man in his mid 80s, had turned over the reins of power to Trunch, a man in his late 30s. That age gap was perhaps the basis of the President's proposed solution to the current economic dilemma. The past election had been close, coming down to party loyalty, and the typical minority and cultural concerns, but Trunch's plan would create a generational divide that could well cost him the next election.

As he saw it, America's debt was primarly the result of uncontrolled social spending, especially spending favoring one particular group, the elderly. Programs such as social security and medicare accounted for over one-third of the ever-increasing, annual budget. How to cut such spending was the question, but what was the answer? With this in mind, he had brought together his two closest advisors, Thomas Pluck and Marcus Slasher.

The three men had met at university and become close friends. Following graduation, they had formed a non-profit organization that had lobbied on behalf of a Mexican drug cartel hoping to bring bullfighting to the U.S. They had counted on gaining public support with the guarantee of full gender equality in the hiring of not only matadors but also their bovine opponents. However, their efforts met with strong opposition from animal rights groups that eventually doomed their aspirations.

Undaunted by that failure, they nevertheless used their newly-formed Washington connections to expand into various business ventures, eventually earning billions from government contracts, and giving Trunch the confidence and funds to seek the highest office in the land.

The two men operated in no official capacity, but their advice was highly valued by the Commander-In-Chief. Once comfortably seated around a low, highly polished, oak table arrayed with a variety of fine wines and Bourbons, they sipped from crystal glassware and waited for the President to speak.

“Tom, Marc, thank you for joining me today. You are well aware of the budget situation. While the problem is a carryover from previous administrations, I promised to do something about our debt. Obviously, social security and Medicare take up the largest portions of the budget. I would like to begin there. These programs have been considered non-discretionary, but I want to change that. Any obvious effort to cut spending on these entitlements is considered to be the DEADLY third rail of American politics, so I need to be very subtle with my approach.”

The President continued, “When these payouts were conceived, actuaries based their estimates on the life expectancy at that time. Since then much has changed. Medical advances along with higher qualities of life have pushed these departments to their breaking point. What we need is a return to an earlier time when life expectancy was more compatible with the nation's needs.

“The first beneficiaries of this government spending were what are sometimes referred to as, 'The Greatest Generation.' These men and women often dropped out of high school to enter the work force. When called upon, they marched off to war, and following a victorious return, they worked hard and raised their families. In addition they drank alcohol by the gallon, smoked incessantly, ate meat fried in lard, and viewed a walk to the television as exercise. They had the common courtesy to die at an early age without becoming a financial burden to the younger generations.

“On the other hand, their children, 'The Baby Boomers,' enjoyed the fruits of their parents' labor. They went to college, protested war, burned bras and draft cards, tuned in, turned on, and dropped out, but they didn't stay out. They got jobs, married, had one and a half children, and moved to the suburbs. They began collecting social security benefits about 25-years ago, and their numbers have only increased over that time. They walk or bike, or play something called pickleBall, while wintering in Florida. They have pensions, personal savings, and investments. Money that was intended to provide minimum comfort in their waning years is instead squandered on sports cars, golf, yoga, face lifts, and erectile dysfunction medications.

“Those people don't need our money. So my question to you is how do we reclaim what is being pilfered from the working people of this country without suffering significant negative political consequences? We have raised the retirement age, and discussed a means test, but I would like even more. Think outside the Oval Office. No ideas are too ordinary or extreme.”

The two men stared in silence at one another before Pluck spoke, “Well, the last pandemic was effective. The social security ranks were reduced, but most savings were offset by increased costs in health care and damage to the economy. We may not want to go there again.”

Slasher suggested, “We could advertize 65 and over cruises. Customers would receive $10 a pound refund for every pound they gained while on the cruise. Weigh-ins would be twice daily, once after 11:00 am, and the next between 12:00 and 1:00 am.”

“Hollywood might be paid to subliminally add the theme song from M.A.S.H. to reruns of television shows from the 60s,” Pluck added.

Slasher said, “My aunt went sky diving at 80. Medicare supplemental plans might define that as healthful activity and pay for that along with lessons on rock and mountain climbing. Or we could sponsor a nation-wide, Independence Day marathon, awarding cash prizes according to times and age.”

“States could be required to increase the font size on the vision test for a driver's license. Senior discounts could be offered for automobile registrations, and reduced fines for speeding,” offered Pluck.

“Good, good,” said the President. “Those are worthwhile considerations. I will have the numbers guys run some calculations and determine their feasibility.”

Just then, the cheerful notes of the President's college fight song were heard emitting from somewhere on Trunch's person. He removed his personal phone from his coat's inner pocket. Recognizing the caller, he tapped the screen to answer.

“Hello, Grammy, how are you today?” He listened patiently before saying, “I will see what I can do, but this can't continue to happen.”

Returning the phone to his pocket, he sighed in frustration.

“Gentlemen, that was my grandmother. She bought herself a new Corvette for her 90th birthday and has just now, while driving with her boyfriend to the casino, received her fourth speeding ticket this year. She would like me to see what I can do to make that problem go away.”

The President took a deep drink from his glass. After taking a moment to organize his thoughts, he said, “Let's forget everything discussed today. If most seniors are anything like my grandmother, they will see through many of our more devious proposals, embrace the ones they like, and demand even greater benefits. I am afraid any permanent solutions are going to have to wait for another time.

“What do you think about a tax increase on adult diapers, flip phones with large buttons, or restaurants that serve dinner before 5:00 pm?”

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.

Part VII. Looking Back

Catherine de Medici's Fork, poetry
by Ann Chiappetta

To pluck tidbits from a trencher
soils delicate hands
Even a lady's dagger, while beautiful
cannot hold softened morsels
A spoon compels one to slurp — or drip
How excited was I
to find bordering neighbors
otherwise equipped.

I returned with this implement
a gift from a Venetian prince.
A slim handle with four tines
to spike and transfer a tidbit
from table to fair lips
Graceful and delicate
Behold, unsoiled fingertips.

Note: Catherine D 'Medici, Queen Regent of France during the reign of King Henry II
(b. 1519-d. 1589)
Popular culture frequently attributes Italian culinary influence and forks in France to Catherine.

Storm Warriors, fiction
by Carol Farnsworth

Ellis woke to a dark cloudy dawn on a freezing November morn. It was too early for breakfast but not too early to wrestle the heavy lifeboat into the rolling waves of Lake Superior. Ellis was a short, wiry black man in his mid-forty's. With other retired Union soldiers, he manned the lifeboats along the Lake Superior shore. He led a group of this all-black unit of the U.S. corp. They would row to rescue passengers and crew from floundering ships. Whitefish point had more shipwrecks than all the rest of the Great Lakes.

Ellis and his crew practiced two times a day to stay in shape to row the lifeboats to the wrecks. Ellis waited for his men in the early morning gloom, he thought he saw several ghostly lights hovering over the lake between Whitefish Point and the Canadian shore. The lights appeared to dance across the tops of the whitecaps. There were seven lights in all. He had heard stories about seeing lights over the water being an evil omen. The lights were said to foretell a sailor’s drowning.

As his men gathered for the morning rowing, Ellis put the strange lights out of his mind. Backs pulled, arm muscles strained, the men worked in unison, rowing to the point and back. Their arm muscles strained as they rowed as one.

“Jacob, watch your oar! Nathen, pull with your back!” Ellis gave few directions, The men knew their jobs. Occasionally, they tested Ellis by not working as hard. to see if he noticed a slacking in the rowing.

They rowed to the point and returned to the beach in record time.

Ellis noted the time and reminded the men, “There are still ships out in the coming storm. There are several freighters sailing with the last loads of iron ore. They sailed from Green Bay this morning.” Ellis reported. “Those ships go down quickly with a full load of ore.”

The men went to shave, and get ready for breakfast.

As Ellis finished strapping the oars to the boat, he saw the strange lights again. They sparkled like stars closer to the point. There were seven twinkling lights. Ellis felt a shiver travel down his spine. As he turned to go the lights disappeared.

Later that afternoon, the gale hit the point, winds peaking at 60 knots. The men didn’t train that afternoon fearing they would be called to help with a ship in trouble.

At midnight, the distress cannon fired to signal a ship in trouble. The Madison, a wooden schooner was rammed by a metal plated war boat in the fog and pelting freezing rain. The men of the storm trooper corps raced to their lifeboat. They were the first boat in the water. Ellis directed the rowing men to the floundering schooner. The high waves made it impossible to get near the ship. The crew tried to lower a lifeboat filled with passengers. The waves tossed the small boat, dumping all into the water.

Ellis’s men raced to pluck people from the water, knowing the passengers in the freezing water would drown in minutes. Superior would numb the body in minutes. Ellis reached to grab the hand of a young woman to pull her into the lifeboat. She thrust a bundle into Ellis’s arms. Then she disappeared under the next wave.

When the lifeboat was filled, the men returned to the shore. Ellis and his men made two more trips to save the crew before the schooner sank.

When the passengers and crew were counted, seven souls were missing. The bundle held a small baby but the mother was not among the saved.

Later Ellis walked the beach searching for remains of the drowned. He saw a wet woman approaching with a twinkling light highlighting her form. She spoke to Ellis.

“Take care of my son, He will make you proud.”

Ellis returned to the survivors to look for the baby. He found the small brown skinned child crying for milk. He took it upon himself to care for the child. The child was the only negro in the survivors.

Ellis adopted the boy and was rewarded when his son joined the Coast guard to become the first colored captain of a lifeguard vessel. Ellis never saw the hovering lights but he remembered his promise to a ghost.

Richard was my Friend, fiction
by Brad Corallo

I am getting to the time in my life when I begin to think a lot (perhaps too much) about events and episodes from my past. As I approach retirement age, I can say that I have done OK I guess. I was fortunate enough to be part of two relatively successful marriages; both of which sadly, didn't end too well. I have worked in human service for many years. And though I certainly have not remotely ascended to the upper middle class (if that term still has any meaning) I have managed to support myself without any periods of unemployment. I own a modest home which I share with my cat Hank in a decent part of this somewhat obsolete and diminishing mill town.

When I was a kid, it was a thriving center for the production of textiles. Now of course, it is cheaper to buy such from sweat shops in the Asian third world. As the mills began to close, the lack of jobs caused many young folks to leave, seeking greener pastures in the many thriving metropolises of neighboring states.

Looking back though, this town was a good place in which to be a kid growing up. There were many wooded areas in which to play and the river offered quiet eddies and pools which were ideal for swimming and fishing. There was even the old reservoir overlooked by some rocky outcrops and the sand pits in the eastern part of the town where many of us engaged in questionable forms of play. There were crazy contests where kids would challenge one another to jump from rock shelves of increasing height into the reservoir. Trying to shoot rats with bee bee guns and Wrist Rockets, inner tubing across the dangerously deep reservoir, rock fights and later beer and weed parties with some of the more adventurous local girls are just a few examples of our good, clean fun.

I should mention that I grew up in a fairly typical family. My mom and dad both worked hard in the mills to support me and my two sisters. Though we were always there for one another, we were not demonstrative; only showing emotion when faced with death or serious loss.

For a lot of my early days as a kid-perhaps up to age thirteen or so, Richard was my best friend. We had met in kindergarten and learned that we both shared unquenchable interests in and liking for dinosaurs and Star Trek reruns. Clearly this could only provide a strong foundation on which to build a lasting friendship.

Richard and I always had each other's backs. When kids in school tried to bully either of us, we both stood up to them together. I remember a widely discussed fight in fourth grade that ended with torn clothing, split lips and bloody noses. This resulted in the three-man gang of tough, snotty kids called the Vipers recognizing that it was better to leave us the hell alone. They decided to move on to kids who could be easily intimidated and were afraid to fight back.

Another time, we were hiking in the woods looking for a good place to build an underground fort and we ended up at one of the two sumps of the town. They were surrounded by cyclone fences but this didn't stop kids from getting in to explore the drainage pipes or sleigh ride in the winter.

We heard several pitiful yowls and came upon a cat that had gotten trapped under the fence. The cat's head and forepaws were on our side but the rest of the rather fat kitty was on the other side. After some discussion we decided that the simplest way to free the poor creature was for each of us to take hold of the fence, on either side of the cat, fairly close to the ground and pull up as hard as we could. It worked like a charm and we watched with delight as the grey tabby, now free again, ran off into the woods. We couldn't stop high fiving each other for at least the next hour.

One day a carnival came to our town. We went on the scariest rides, had pictures taken of both of us together in one of those photo booths and ate hot dogs and cotton candy until we got sick and barfed. We agreed next day that it had been a “stellar” time!

I guess it was about a month after my thirteenth birthday that I got life changing news in a very strange way. Richard and I were fishing at our favorite pool in the river. We had caught a couple perch and a small trout when he dropped the news bomb. We were standing, reeling in our lines for the last time of the day and he said that he had some horrible news. Staring into my eyes, he said that he and his family were moving to San Francisco in two days. His dad who had been unemployed was offered a really good job and there was no other choice. It felt like I had been hit in the head with a hard rubber hammer. Then to my complete shock, Richard put both hands on my shoulders, looked into my eyes and told me that “he loved me and would miss me terribly.” Then he kissed me on the forehead. I froze. I could not respond! The programming in my brain took over and with very confused feelings I ran off and never saw Richard again.


It must have been twenty years later when I found myself in San Francisco attending a three-day seminar on eclectic counseling techniques. By the end of the second day, I was tired and truly had, had enough. Leaving the conference center, I decided to take a lengthy walk and explore this most unique city. After a couple hours of exploration, I stopped at a nondescript, semi-upscale bar called the Warrior's Rest. I sat down at the bar and ordered a double Port Charlotte 15-year-old single malt with water on the side. I sipped my Scotch and started to relax. I began looking around at the bar's decor. It wasn't called the “Warrior's Rest” for nothing. In addition to the antique weapons and shields hung haphazardly upon the walls, there was a wall of photographs. Each one had some sort of military ribbon and engraved pewter plaque below it. The plaques had the name of the pictured soldier with his dates of birth and death and a brief phrase or comment. For some reason, this wall of fallen heroes fascinated me. I ordered a second drink and began to carefully study each one. In the fourth row from the top, third picture in, I saw an image that nearly stopped my heart. It was Richard! Above his photograph was a distinguished service medal with a black ribbon with four imbedded silver stars. Under his name and dates, the following words were inscribed: “He died in a desperate fire fight to save five men under his command. Leaving behind a wife, two children and many friends, Richard always said: ‘If one must die, then die so your friends may live.’”

Home Was a Swimming Hole, poetry
by Wesley D. Sims

  • “and a fishing pole and the feel of a
    muddy row between my toes.” —
    Joe Diffie

One was two miles west passing Mr. Harlan's
cattle ranch with the big, bad brahmas
with high back humps grazing in the pasture,
staring with mean faces and giant horns
you didn't even want to think about touching,
lest they butt you back into yesterday.
Travel the gravel road looping down
to Shoal Creek to where it curves to the bridge
then take the dogleg dirt road to the hole
deep enough to dive into from the jutting
limestone bluff. Water runs dingy but cools
a sweaty body. For sixeen year-olds that's enough.
If you stay all night and bring a long-handled
gig and good flashlight you can eat fried frog legs
for breakfast to go with the perch you catch.
You'll need a pot of strong coffee because you
stay up late swapping stories. Struggle
to get up early, ending the sweet dreams
about the hot classmates you'd like to date.
But you have to get in some more fishing,
hoping for a big mud cat or silver drum.

The other hole located two miles south,
past Grandma's house up and down hills
to the shallow, gravel-filled ford,
then a quarter mile south through
Mr. Belew's pasture, dodging cow patties
and avoiding the Jersey bull, then climb through
the barbed wire fence, drop your shorts and leap
into the ice cold stream of Blue Water Creek.
If you try to wade in you'll chicken out.
Just jump in and if you survive the shock
you can go for fifteen minutes provided
you swim like you just spied a cottonmouth.
After ten to fifteen minutes you hop out
and let the sun melt the icicles off your butt.
If you're really tough you dive back in
for a second round. By then you shiver
and shake trying to get your britches on.
By the time you ride your bike back home
you're all hot and sweaty again
but at least you have the memory
you can dredge up next time
the mercury hits ninety-five degrees,
and a story to tell your buddies and later
to your kids when they don't believe
you walked three miles to school every day
even in the snow.

Bio: Wesley D. 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.

River Reverie, poetry
by Sally Rosenthal

Worn down by decades of cardiac illness
and drained by an unknown infection
that will send him back to intensive care
before this frigid, bleak day ends,
the man asks his wife of fifty years
to drive them to the river that,
in warmer seasons, flows by their town.

Frozen with no imminent thaw,
the Susquehanna, dreary now, reminds him
of better times when he fished for trout,
chugged beer, and played cards in buddies' cottages.

Come Spring, trout will jump again.
The clink of bottles and the laughter of friends
will ring out on summer evenings.
Is my brother's wish to visit the river off-season
a momentary answer to cabin fever
or one last look, dreaming
of times that will not come again?

A Movie Star and a Senator, memoir
by Rhonda T. Spear

Have you been lucky enough to meet a legendary person? More to the point, has a famous person met you? Throughout my life, I have been fortunate to be introduced to some important people. There is one couple I met as a child and I vividly recall the event though I was only ten years old.

The year was 1979. This was celebrated as the International Year of the Child. My school mentor told me about an art contest and encouraged me to enter. With her help, I painted a picture of all of my favorite things. The painting depicted a wide variety of objects ranging from roses and strawberries to toys, whatever my childish fancies were at the time. My mentor sent the painting accompanied with a letter explaining the painter was blind and what the painting represented.

Time passed, I can't remember how long. A letter arrived announcing my painting had been chosen as one of thirty winners out of six hundred entries. My family was very excited.

The painting was on display at the local United Virginia bank a few days before the award ceremony. Fortunately, a close family friend worked at that bank. He arranged a private showing after hours so my family could see the painting. I have pictures of it in a photo album.

In addition to being awarded a blue ribbon and certificate, the presenter of the awards was none other than Elizabeth Taylor Warner. Yes, the renowned movie star was to present all the winners their award at a ceremony in Richmond, Virginia.

Elizabeth Taylor and John Warner were married in 1976. In 1978, he was the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate representing Virginia. Once elected, they divided their time between Washington DC, Richmond, and their Middleburg estate. Ms. Taylor was heavily involved with the International Year of the Child cause. Living so close made it convenient for her to appear at the award ceremony that special Sunday afternoon.

Ms. Taylor was recognizable not only for her name, but for her beautiful face and extraordinary violet eyes. During the presentation, winners were not allowed to interact with her due to strict time constraints. When the ceremony concluded, as Ms. Taylor was leaving, my mother approached her. Mom explained I was blind and asked Ms. Taylor to stop and say hello to me. Mom told her doing that would be my way of seeing her. It took a lot of courage for my mother to approach a movie star with such a request. Mom was trying to be unobtrusive and didn't want to draw attention to Ms. Taylor because there wasn't a lot of time. Ms. Taylor was very agreeable and came over to me.

Her voice was gentle and soft when she spoke. Her speech was cultured, as would be expected from an actress. I asked if I could have a hug. She gave me a big one filled with warmth. I kissed her cheek, and I remember it was soft. Mom asked permission to take a photograph of us, which I still have to this day.

I'm not sure how long we chatted, or the exact details of our conversation. Senator Warner came up and announced it was time for them to leave. Ms. Taylor's words to him were, “The plane can wait.” He introduced himself to me as Senator Warner. I guess he was trying to get back on her good side, thus he was a bit more gracious. Once again, Ms. Taylor interjected, “He's my husband. That's more important, don't you think?” “Yes Ma'am,” I said. We all laughed.

A crowd was beginning to gather. Everyone wanted the same opportunity as I had, to meet and talk with Ms. Taylor. Unfortunately, she couldn't oblige them as she had me. Though it was only a few brief moments, Ms. Taylor never gave the impression she was in a hurry and she didn't rush our conversation. Sometimes celebrities are full of self-importance and think they don't have time to meet anyone. Elizabeth Taylor was genuine. She was courteous and kind. Mom said she smiled the entire time.

I have been privileged to meet celebrities, favorite country singers, and governors. However, one of my fondest memories is a Sunday afternoon when I spent some time with a movie star and a senator.

Bio: Rhonda T. Spear is a native of Richmond, Virginia where she currently lives. Her education came from being mainstreamed in both public and small Catholic schools. She works as a Director of First Impression/Customer Service Specialist. She enjoys listening to country music, watching sports on TV and collecting trivia.

Rhonda has been completely blind her entire life, but that has not stopped her from living independently and pursuing her true passion, writing. She writes with hopes of sharing her work with a broader audience.

Song for Myself, poetry
by Valerie Moreno

Born in Nov., 1954–three months early,
incubator was my home for 72 days.
Brooklyn-Italian, I grew up fast–loved speeding down our long, wide block on a scooter, even though I only had vision in a corner of an eye.
School was mainstream–loved reading and English, bored by the rest.
Dolls, marbles, puzzles and Television comedy were my delights until Radio!
Music opened my heart and soul–folk, rock and the Beatles took my spirit soaring!
Writing was born from The Monkees TV show and stories flowed out with poems decorating cards and notebooks.
Worked and traveled with white cane, married and lived in AZ, had a baby girl.
Music, writing fill my older, wiser, widowed soul.
I dream, I grieve, I question, I wonder.
Speeding down long, wide stretches of imagination–I am childlike, delighted, somber and struggling, searching for the next chorus.

Cemetery, poetry
by Wesley D. Sims

Field of gray, granite
stones-inanimate monuments,

Engraved with departing dates
of those who touched our lives.
Inscribed with faded epitaphs

to console us, fill with hope.
Garden of enduring symbols,
reminders of the impermanence
of mortal life, the permanence
of relationships and memories.
Silent markers that remind us
who these now invisible people
once were and who we still are.

Part VIII. Seasonal Wonders

Tall Travelers, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

With magnetic field and inner ear guidance
Heading toward the Texas coast is our autumnal destiny;
Our unusual height,
Often five feet or more,
Perpetuates our claim, tallest bird in North America.
In September we leave northwest Canada;
Nearly two months later we reach our Texas refuge,
Groups of wildlife enthusiasts protect us.

Cross-country flight altitudes are between fifteen and 1800 meters,
Range between groups is about 500 meters,
A glorious sight for observers on the ground.
Numbers flying together include one to two small family groups, three to eight birds,
Each bird is bright white with black wingtips visible during flight.
Sounds we make distinguish us, and give us our name.

Whooping Cranes

Kentucky Autumn, poetry
by Marilyn Brandt Smith

The goblins put their hats and masks away;
Deer season comes in with the waxing moon;
Pecans are ready by the creek they say
And Nelda makes a real mean macaroon.

The weather man sees snow, “Prepare,” he warns.
The harvest over, hay is stacked in bails;
Tobacco now is stripped and in the barns.
We’ll take our chances at the auction sales.

The corn we raised is served Thanksgiving Day
With blackberries and pickles canned in June.
Our autumn garden flourished. Sad to say,
It vanished with the frost that came too soon.

We pause a moment, call our family near
And pray to do it all again next year.

Winter Bright, poetry
by Trish Hubschman

The snow is falling outside.
Thick, heavy droplets cascading to the earth.
I can see it through the window.
Time seems to have frozen in place.
The blanket of white is growing higher and higher.
It's dark outside,
But I can see it all so clearly.
The bright, sparkling snow makes it almost like day.
It's so peaceful out there,
Not a person in sight.
I wonder if their gazing out their windows too,
Like I am.
I just want to watch it.
This one moment will never be the same.
Tomorrow we'll be outside clearing.
All the neighbors will.
It won't be the same anymore.
Tonight, it's just Nature.

“Winter Bright” also appears in the Winter 2022 print issue of The Avocet.

Bio: Trish Hubschman is the author of the Tracy Gayle mystery series, Tidalwave, Stiff Competition, Ratings Game and Uneasy Tides. Tracy is hired by rock musician, Danny Tide, to find out who set fire to his band's summer tour bus. In doing this, more diabolical things arise, mysteries, murders, romance.

Trish is a graduate of Long Island University's Southampton Campus and has a Bachelor's degree in English-Writing. She is deafblind and lives in Pennsylvania with her husband, Kevin, and their dog, henry. Her website is:

Merry Christmas, from the Mary Club, fiction
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

“Mary Francis, how's the president of the Mary Club?” yelled Mary Therese from the side of her snow-covered barn.

“All is well. I am delivering Pizzelle to all the members in good standing of the Mary Club.” Her Beagles Queenie and Quilter happily greeted their neighbor and awaited their pets. After handing the decorated tin filled with Pizzelle to Mary Therese, the younger woman explained that she had already delivered to Mary Sue, Mary Ellen, and Mary Pat. Although Mary Therese urged her friend to stay for a visit and a cup of tea, Mary Francis and her dogs were determined to continue their walk, as usual.

Folding up her large bag, Mary Francis felt a bit like Santa after delivering all of the early gifts; however, the date was only December 16. She had talked with her students earlier that day about the nine-day celebration of “Posadas”; and thoughts of her own community's live Nativity were alternating with thoughts of her husband who was serving in Afghanistan. She walked. Every night, she walked with her two Beagles. When he first left, lilacs were in bloom. After months of walking in the summer's late sunshine, Mary Francis was comforted by walking through the fallen leaves. In the past several days, she had been leaving her bootprints in the snow. Yes, the young woman was dwelling on no donkey for the live Nativity and no Joel to smile at her from the audience.

In her high school classroom, she stood almost all day. Each night, her feet were tired, but she walked and wondered. When she arrived home, Mary Francis knew that there would only be a stack of papers waiting for her–waiting for her to grade. Mary Francis said a quick prayer that an e-mail from Joel would also be waiting for her.

Instead of going up the stairs to the front porch where one of the windows displayed a blue star for her Joel, Mary Francis took another path into the once-used pasture–even Queenie and Quilter were surprised, but they were ready to continue their adventure into the night with all of its interesting smells.

After a few minutes, a cloud moved aside to allow a star to shine brightly onto the east side of the pasture. Mary Francis wondered if she were seeing a deer: obviously, something was near the clump of pines. The two Beagles were the only animals on the hobby farm: their little barn did not even have a single barn cat. At times, she had wished for a horse, but knew such a wish was impractical. “Maybe someday when Joel is back for good … maybe a little pony when we have …,” her thought was interrupted by a movement ahead. Immediately, Mary Francis called the dogs to heel and affixed their leashes. “Good girls,” she whispered as her eyes squinted to see what was near her favorite pine tree. With her red plaid scarf, she wiped snow from her glasses. In the starlight, Mary Francis realized that what was before her was a little donkey–perhaps, a miniature donkey–with a big red and silver bow around its neck. Slowly, she approached the animal. Then, Mary Francis firmly told her Beagles to stay. Queenie and Quilter whined a little, but obeyed. Carefully, Mary Francis moved right up to the little donkey who was pleased to nuzzle a new friend. As she stroked the donkey, Mary Francis found that a bag was tied onto the red ribbon. Realizing how gentle the donkey was, Mary Francis called Queenie and Quilter to her. The donkey seemed to have met them previously.

In the silent pasture, Mary Francis opened the red satin bag that was topped with snowflakes. Inside the bulky bag, the young woman found a beautiful pair of fleece-lined slippers–light blue with a snowflake design, she thought. Next, Mary Francis found an envelope and removed the card. At first, she could not read the message, but she could feel an embossed donkey and a manger on the front of the card. Finally the moon sent a beam of light over that section of the pasture so that Mary Francis could read the message: “I know how much you love the story of the Posadas, so here is your donkey named Posadas to let you know that I will be home in nine days–I will be home for Christmas. Love always and forever, Joel.” With tears of gladness, Mary Francis read the card at least three more times and did believe the words. As she leaned against the donkey's soft coat, Mary Francis reached out to pet Queenie and Quilter. She could feel her heart again: she could feel real hope again for Christmas.

Somehow, Mary Francis had gone to the pasture even before she had read Joel's e-mail. Holding the slippers and guiding the donkey, the soldier's wife and her two dogs walked toward the little barn. All was well on that 16th of December, and Mary Francis whispered prayers of thanks and joy. Suddenly, the teary-eyed woman became aware of activity around her barn. A familiar voice shouted, “Merry Christmas, from the Mary Club!” Of course, the cheery voice was Mary Ellen's. Mary Francis waved the snowflake slippers in the air and realized that some of the visitors were going in and out of the barn. In the driveway were four trucks, one of which had a horse trailer. Besides Mary Ellen and one of her sons, Mary Sue and her husband John, Mary Pat and her son Matthew, and Mary Therese were there.

Seeing how overwhelmed Mary Francis was, Mary Therese took her friend's arm and shared, “Dear, we have everything ready for Posadas in the barn, and we have another surprise for you in the barn.” With Mary Therese on one side and Posadas on the other, Mary Francis entered the barn–directly behind Queenie and Quilter.

Mary Pat spoke first: “Here is Posadas' faithful companion.” As expected, the two little donkeys were quite happy to be reunited.

After a few minutes of taking in the reunion, Mary Sue spoke up: “Well, you may want to change the name of this little donkey. She is named … Mary Jo!”

Reaching out to shake hands with and give hugs of gratitude to all of her neighbors, Mary Francis was blessed with that delicate combination of joyful tears and jolly laughter–a laughter she had not enjoyed for many months.

Nine nights later, as the Mary Club was singing at the live Nativity with Posadas and Mary Jo nearby, a young soldier in the audience smiled brightly.

Snow-covered Abecedarian, poetry
by Alice Jane-Marie Massa

Angels are crocheting too many snowflakes!
Blizzard warnings become bomb cyclone.
Come, Mother Nature, with your snowscaped fury.
Dogs of all sizes and breeds settle cozily inside.
Evergreen branches work hard to hold all the snow.
Fireplaces' warmth and fragrance bring forth family and friends.
Gray clouds hang low and disperse the lacy snowflakes.
Home, sweet home is where we all want to be on a blizzardy night.
Ice skates are set aside until the weather breaks.
Joys of “Snow Days” drift back to mind.
Kitchens hold the aroma of chili and other comfort foods.
Landscapes painted in glistening white shift and drift with the winter wind.
Mail is delayed, but does arrive somehow.
Neighbors check on one another by old and modern means.
Outdoors is a destination only of necessity.
Photograph these magical moments of winter's harsh, but beautiful bliss.
Quiet–oh, yes, the city is so quiet in the ocean of snow.
Read away the night while our world is filled with winter.
Savour a mug of hot chocolate or warm, spiced cider.
Turn off the lights and watch the show out your window.
Understand and be grateful: soon snowplows will come to disrupt Mother Nature's artistry.
Visualize this velvet night as you drift off to sleep a little.
Willow and I go out into the snowy night one more time.
X marks the spot where I have cleared away some snow for my Leader Dog.
Yards, once taupe and gray, now sparkle under the courtyard lights.
Zoom back inside for a “Good dog, Willow” and her treat to close this snowy night.

This literary magazine is produced by Behind Our Eyes, Inc, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization of writers with disabilities.