I made it out of the jail

without falling apart yesterday, but just barely.

I’m working with women now, and while we don’t directly address the circumstances that lead to their incarceration, addiction comes up frequently. As does motherhood.

One of my writers was prostituting herself at age eleven to feed her mother’s addiction. She’s a mother and an addict herself now. To solve this problem we put her in jail. She got kicked out of my class for some unnamed misbehavior. I’m guessing a fight with another inmate. If I feel rage at her heartbreaking fate, what must she feel?

I think about all of them all the week in between our meetings. I think about their kids. I think about how much they’d love to be taking a walk, or making dinner, or taking a shower unobserved. Or hugging their kids.

I bring a few dozen used books every week and they snatch them up, starved for escape.

I bring word prompts I write on a whiteboard and they choose one and start writing. So much pain scratching itself out across the page.

If a writer is feeling brave, she can read her piece aloud. Yesterday, the shared wound was so fresh we were all in tears. Then someone applauded and it turned to cheers.

I bring poems and short prose pieces, and visual images clipped from donated art magazines to use as writing prompts. In that gray place the pictures spread out on the table are like artifacts from the living world. They bloom.

Project director Celina Santana brings inspiration and life skills to these women once a week with her program, The Three Principles. A perfect complement to the writing workshop.

When this session with the women ends in a few weeks, I’m starting another session with the men. And this summer, I’ll be guiding a workshop, Resistance & Resilience: A Memoir Workshop of the Jim Crow Era, which will meet at the Colored Community Library Museum in Portsmouth. I’m guessing the tears will flow there, too. We’ll be collecting the stories of that era, which isn’t over, and archiving it at the museum.

At the same time, Project Director Rachel Thompson will be guiding workshops for at-risk teen boys at two group homes.

I’ve spent too long lamenting the state of the world and watching other people try to fix it. This work we’re doing, this Seven Cities Writers Project is an attempt to get our hands in.

We give what we have, which is a love of words and what words can do: break you open; expose your true self; heal.

I’ve been so honored to be the disciple of words for these forgotten people. And to be in a position to share their work with the world on our blog: (freshandlocalblog.wordpress.com).

I know a writer in Austin who guides a writing workshop in a homeless shelter. We agreed that as writers and super-sensitive types we are perfectly suited for this work. Then we agreed that as writers and super-sensitive types we are wholly unsuited for this work. We also agreed that we’d found the work of our lives, the very best job there is. We get so much more than we give.

I hope you’ll help us by giving what you can to our Go Fund Me campaign (https://www.gofundme.com/give-to-7cwp).

Our goal of $25,000 is a dream – it would fund year-round projects in the jail, and multiple Jim Crow workshops, expand the at-risk youth projects to include homeless teens. But every dollar counts.

Please help us continue to give voice to the voiceless. Thank you.

7CWP BC Fill in the blank Front


Tomorrow is #GivingTuesday, a one-day charitable giving campaign for non-profits across the country. Seven Cities Writers Project is counting on your support. 
This spring, we will be expanding our established creative writing workshops in the Norfolk City Jail to include a twelve-week, university-level, multi-genre workshop for up to 20 incarcerated women. Participating writers will be provided folders, composition books and loose leaf paper, pencils and erasers. Used books and sample readings will be distributed. We hope also to provide each student with a new dictionary and thesaurus of her own. Instruction will be equivalent to a university-level creative writing class.
At Seven Cities Writers Project, we believe every voice has a right to be heard, and creative expression has a healing effect on the suffering. Please contribute what you can, and give hope to these vulnerable women. Let them know they are not forgotten, and you, too, believe in the power of creative expression.
To make a contribution, if you have a PayPal account, please go to: paypal.me/7CWP
If you’d like to use a credit card, please go to : 
All donations are tax deductible.
Thanks so much for your support. It means the world to us, and to our writers, Lisa Beech Hartz, Executive Director, Seven Cities Writers Projectjess

Give Local 757

Read what our Norfolk Jail Project writers have to say about 7C.


GL757 RGB stacked Date with white.pngGive Local 757 starts tonight at midnight and runs through midnight tomorrow. It’s your chance to contribute to local non-profits in a very simple way, with a ten dollar minimum donation.

Seven Cities Writers Project will be participating for the first time, and we really need your help.

We’re on our third session of workshops at the Norfolk City Jail, where your donation will provide things like the dictionaries and thesauruses I was able to give each writer last week. These are the things they crave, things we take wholly for granted. Dictionaries, thesauruses, pencils, erasers. Your donation will help pay for composition books and folders. For used books from thrift stores. For loose leaf paper so my writers can copy over their work and send it home with me to post on our lit & art blog, freshandlocalblog.worpress.com.

Here’s what some of my writers have said about the project, responding…

View original post 184 more words

Give Local 757

GL757 RGB stacked Date with white.pngGive Local 757 starts tonight at midnight and runs through midnight tomorrow. It’s your chance to contribute to local non-profits in a very simple way, with a ten dollar minimum donation.

Seven Cities Writers Project will be participating for the first time, and we really need your help.

We’re on our third session of workshops at the Norfolk City Jail, where your donation will provide things like the dictionaries and thesauruses I was able to give each writer last week. These are the things they crave, things we take wholly for granted. Dictionaries, thesauruses, pencils, erasers. Your donation will help pay for composition books and folders. For used books from thrift stores. For loose leaf paper so my writers can copy over their work and send it home with me to post on our lit & art blog, freshandlocalblog.worpress.com.

Here’s what some of my writers have said about the project, responding to our participant survey:

Marcus: “It helped me to find the beautiful and creative side of me that was just waiting to burst out. I’ve found a sense of inner peace and a desire to write what’s in my heart.”

Charles: “This class went above any expectations I had. Ms. Hartz gave us something to look forward to all week. She was a ray of light in a dark place.”

Derek: “I loved this class. I felt unjudged and free to express my feelings in any way.”

Calvin: “For once I felt free, felt recognized as an artist.”

This work has meant more to me than any job I’ve ever had. These writers are so grateful for my time, for the materials I bring. For listening. For sharing this craft I am so grateful to practice.

This summer, we’ll be starting workshops at two group homes for teenage boys, and a fourth workshop will begin at the jail. Please help us continue to bring the reference books, novels, poetry, paper, pencils, and inspiration to these underserved writers. Go to https://givelocal757.org/ and make a donation. Thank you.


Never the Same Love Twice — Lisa Hartz


Thursdays became very special to me over the course of this project. Emotionally both exhausting and exhilarating. Sometimes I made it all the way home before I cried.

On what would have been the tenth Thursday I visited the jail, my father died. I’ll just say that my dad was outsized, and the world without him feels unsteady. His favorite word was “marvelous,” and he always encouraged my sense of wonder.  I’ll also quote F. Scott Fitzgerald, because I’ve found this to be so true: “There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice.” I am so grateful for the so simple and yet so fraught love my father and I shared. It was and is a beautiful, singular gift.

My jail workshop had a graduation ceremony of sorts on our ninth  Thursday. The writers gave a brief reading and received certificates from the Sheriff’s Office. I hadn’t wanted this to end ever. These gentleman taught me so much about myself, what I am capable of, and about how false those walls are that we put up between ourselves and others. I asked them to choose work to share with you. It follows this post.

There will be no ceremony to say goodbye to my dad. His choice. Instead, my brother, sister and I will choose books that have special meaning for us and donate them to his local library. I’ve chosen Sharon Olds, “The Father,” which I warn you not to read in public unless you are missing a heart. But do read it. She manages to conjure a father who is yes, outsized, and yet oh-so-real. A particular love for a particular man. Never the same love twice.

And I’ll be back at the Jail in February, to work with a new set of writers, and to be moved and changed by them all over again.


Marcus Cooper

Untitled by Doris Ulmann, Revived by Marcus N. Cooper and Titled A Girl with a Bow through the Eyes of Lil Marcus, My Son

Dad, Daddy look what I see! Little girl in the picture, she looking at me. Oh look, Daddy look, can you see that little girl looks sad? Can we give her some candy, Daddy, please? So she can smile and be happy like me? I know what Mikey would say: She look pretty. And I like the bow in her hair. So please Daddy, please, can we give her some candy so she can smile and be happy like me?


A Piece of Mind

Today I rise with a sense of PEACE

in my mind so today I seek to recognize

what is truly a piece of mind can I have

some PEACE if you don’t mind you know

just to take some time to seek a sense of

inner PEACE in my mind when

I meditate and pray that I get some

Piece of Mind


DaDa NuSense

Five Senses

Early morning, awaken fresh smell brewed java. Whistle blows, birds chirping from distance. Watching through window, kids load bus laughing, screaming. Phone rings, answers. Wrong number. Mrs. Parker, hard-of-hearing, yells when she speaks — Breakfast! being served on plates. Sounds of silverware clings to the table. Rush toward kitchen. Funny faces being made behind Mrs. Parker’s back. Very old, but cooks mean breakfast. Sausage, scrambled eggs with cheese, green peppers and onions. Toasted bread, spread with butter, grape jelly. Oatmeal and last but not least, hot fresh steaming brewed coffee for whoever wants some. Me and my siblings sit, join hands, close eyes, say grace. Oh, how sweet the sound.


People try to judge me just trying to live right

the enemy don’t love thee worse than a parasite

truth uh-huh yo look what we’re facing

signs of the end times abomination desolation

no need for that shrewd face evil eyes proud look

running off with that mouth lying lips sly crooks

evil hearts that shed blood offspring are devious

sneaky quick to kill imaginations mischievous

my Lord never feed me this shower me with blessings

I’m praying continuously intersessions

my life isn’t easy we all go through

being one with God doesn’t mean the enemy won’t bother you

many temptations like Jesus in the wilderness

flowing from my heart know many people be feeling this

go hard for my Lord no perpetrating a fraud

praying on one accord Jesus’ word is our sword

whenever you’re in danger stay true never change up

like Daniel in the lion’s den see how he came up

final calling whole world ending in flames

yo read check the script everybody streaming his name.


Charles DesRoches

Little Bird Lost

I chased her until I caught her.

Then I lost her.

Now I’m lost.

What did I do?

What didn’t I do?

And what am I going to do now?

The bridge is up in flames.

And I’m stuck somewhere in the middle.

Should I even try to cross?

Or should I just go back where I came from?

How could I do this to her?


She thought I was different.

We were both dreamers…together.

Now my side of the field is cold and barren,

like Langston’s field.

She was my Little Bird and I broke her.

I don’t care what anyone says.

About her or me or us.

We were built for each other.

Our love song was more beautiful and precious than tanzanite.

Now here we are, singing the blues.

Maybe the show’s over.

Maybe our contract has expired.

Move on, there’s nothing here to see.

Some say, out of sight out of mind.

Isn’t that the truth.

She’s gone and I’m out of my mind.

But at the same time,

it’s nothing but a big fat lie.

You see, I can’t ever forget her.

To do so would be to forget myself.

For she is a part of me.

Because of her, I am who I am.

For better or for worse.

I just pray there is hope in the mechanics.

And this can all be fixed.

All I want is what I had.

I messed up and scared her away.

So for now, all I can do is wait.

And if my Little Bird comes flying back,

then I’ll know it is truly meant to be.












Thanksgiving Letter from Norfolk Jail — Lisa Hartz


It’s Thursday, jail day, only this Thursday is Thanksgiving, so I probably could have skipped it.

I cook every year for my entire side of the family, which is a lot of people. Fourteen this year. Two down from last. This is the first year my parents won’t be making the drive up from Florida. My dad is busy being slowly and cruelly suffocated by Philip Morris. So I had to go see my guys in the jail. These two things are connected in a way I don’t yet understand.

Today, we’re going to read this poem by Abigail Deutsch:

After the Disaster, New York City, 2001
One night, not long after the disaster,
As our train was passing Astor,
the car door opened with a shudder
and a girl came flying down the aisle,
hair that looked to be all feathers
and a half-moon smile
making open air of our small car.

The crowd ignored her or they muttered
“Hey, excuse me,” as they passed her
when the train had paused at Rector.
The specter crowed, “Excuse me,” swiftly
turned, and ran back up the corridor,
then stopped for me.
We dove under the river.

She took my head between her fingers,
squeezing till the birds began to stir.
And then from out my eyes and ears
a flock came forth — I couldn’t think or hear
or breathe or see within that feather-world
so silently I thanked her.
Such things were common after the disaster.

Then, I’m going to ask my dudes to write about someone they are thankful for having encountered. It might be a tiny moment of connection. It might have become a major relationship. Then, they’ll share. They are always so supportive of each other. And they always blow me away with their creativity.

Next, we’ll read Alberto Rios:

When Giving Is All We Have
One river gives
Its journey to the next

We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.
We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.
We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it —

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.
Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:
Mine to yours, yours to mine.
You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me
What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give — Together, we made
Something greater from the difference.

Then, I’m going to ask them to write from the point of view of someone who is thankful for them.

I don’t know yet that this will draw tears from a young father. The one who took longer than any of them to trust me. Or that I will find myself hugging him and crying, too.  Or that I’ll be typing this the next day through a blur of tears.

The other day on NPR, I heard someone quote a Mormon bishop. He’d said: “Walk with me while I learn.” That’s what this jail thing is about. I’m learning so much as I walk.

It’s important of course to take a moment, and not just on Thanksgiving, to be thankful for what we have. Sure. We don’t do that enough.

It’s also important to be thankful for what we have given. To take a moment to appreciate that our gifts have meaning.

So be thankful today, and consider yourself thanked.

Also, don’t smoke.

Fresh and Local: Our First Fundraiser


On Saturday, November 14, we dove into a poetry reading at Prince Books in Norfolk with the amazing and talented Shannon Curtin and Kindra McDonald. We are so grateful for their willingness to be there and for their beautiful words. Pictures from our first fundraiser: our gorgeous flier by Advisory Board Member Leslie Renn.






Q&A time, (some of) our board with the guest poets.



L to R: 7CWP Advisory board member Leslie Renn, Treasurer Rachel Thompson, Writer Kindra McDonald, Advisory Board member Lauren Hurston, 7CWP co-directors Lisa Beech Hartz and Claudia Isler Mazur, Writer Shannon Curtin, and Advisory Board member Linda Cobb.

Tidewater Park Elementary: A Project in the Projects — Claudia Isler Mazur


I’m always nervous when I meet new kids. I want them to like me; when a kid doesn’t like you, you have some work to do on yourself. Kids are like dogs that way–they can smell your fear and your issues. I worried about the kind of chaos that can happen with groups of children–over the summer I worked with young people at a women’s shelter, and they had not mastered sitting still and listening, not even the fourteen-year-old.

Also, the situation feels reminiscent of my own elementary school days, the lone white girl in the classroom, hoping to be accepted, hoping to be trusted. Of course, now I’m the adult, and I don’t want to be viewed as the white lady who thinks she’s doing something charitable and patronizing. I might be the white lady, but I want to write with them and watch them grow as writers. So I have already loaded myself with worry. I knew I didn’t need to, though. Kids are kids, no matter what.

I met eight lovely little girls, ranging in age from eight to eleven. Some of them were very neat and tidy, every hair in place, shirt clean and tucked in. Some had hairdos that looked like a roughly put together pony tail had met a high wind, their clothes to match. They were all bright-eyed and energetic, even though it was five-o’clock at the end of a school day.

All of them were excited to be part of a writers group.

When I arrived at Tidewater Park Elementary, I ran into the principal, Dr. Sharon Phillips, in the parking lot. Dr. Phillips is an experienced educator who has worked for Norfolk Public Schools for a long time. Her affection and hope for the children at her school is palpable, whether I am talking with her alone, or if she is chatting with students in the hallway. She treats them with respect and pride. She remembered I was coming when she saw me, so I knew this first class might be a bit disorganized. But Dr. Phillips also has a calmness about her that assured me all was well.

If there is one thing my own children have taught me, it’s that it is good to make plans as long as you understand that nothing is likely to go that way.

So I had a plan: Each child would get a notebook. She would write her name on the book and then decorate it however she liked with stickers I had brought. “Make it yours,” I would say. We would talk about writing and what sorts of things we’d be doing each Wednesday afternoon. And then we’d dive in to my first exercise.

We went inside to gather up some kids for my group and find a quiet room. The face of a clock in the hallway admonishes “Say No to Drugs.” Inside, the school looks like most urban public schools; it looks just like the one I attended in New York. Painted cement-block hallways are punctuated with colorful student work on bulletin boards and doors decorated by teachers. We found some kids in the hallway who had gone to use the bathroom and were waiting for each other with a member of the afterschool program. They became mine. Dr. Phillips said there would be more next time. I only had a half hour with them for our first meeting.

They couldn’t wait to see what we would do–they suggested I learn their names first of all (I loved that they thought I needed this prompting–they were already helping me). So I learned names–Gina, Kimora, Essence, Aaliyah, Khamiyah, Mikayla, Jameria, and Ariana–and we decorated notebooks. The appearance of Hello Kitty stickers was met with the same joy they would’ve inspired among any group of girls that age, anywhere. They vied for the hearts, rainbows, and stars. We chatted, and I answered questions about myself. I told them how excited I had been all day to meet them (anxiety and excitement are so closely aligned, aren’t they?). I told them a little of what we’d be doing, and I listened to them and began to get a sense of their personalities. The very tidy girls told me all about their excellent grades in writing, and they tried to keep the less poised kids in line. The girls who were a bit less tucked in took it all in stride and did not let their friends’ need for order phase them.

At no point did I have solid control. Someone was always talking. But it was okay. I had given them a lot of shiny stickers. They were little girls. When time was up, without being asked, they all helped gather up our supplies. One by one, they left the room and ran back down to homework time. They were all smiles, saying thank you and “see you next week.” Essence hugged me. She left the room and came back a minute later for another hug.

There’s no doubt that the children at this school face challenges, even if only economic. But what’s also clear is that they are children–bright, ready to learn, by turns silly and serious, delightful. And like all people, they will benefit from having a forum in which to express themselves, to speak about who they are, in whatever form that takes in their sticker-laden notebooks. I want to help make that happen.

Letter from Norfolk Jail — Lisa Hartz

Last Thursday I went to jail. I promise I’ll only make that joke once, because once you’ve been to jail, it isn’t funny. It was my first day as director of our project at the Norfolk City Jail. And it was the first day I would realize that all of the things that have happened to me — all of the things — were in preparation for this day.

I spent my early youth in an all-white suburb of Detroit. I knew there was something off about this even as a small child, and drove my parents crazy with questions. I now know some of the answers to those questions, but the smack of shame that hit me burnt fresh as I walked past the cages (and that’s what they are, cages) full of brown men. Then, the aroma of teenaged boy, which when you have teenaged sons you adore is a sweet scent of promise and loss, brought tears to my eyes. I was following in the wake of Karen Hopkins of the Sheriff’s office who greeted many of the men by name and with a smile. I slapped a smile on and took a deep breath.

Mr. Thomas, the 8th floor counselor, introduced me to my three writers. We sat at a small table in a sort of side hall and got to know each other. Turns out they already identify as writers. They’ve been writing in journals every day for Mr. Thomas, who reads and comments on their entries. Later, he would tell me that this helps him get to know them better, so that he can be his most helpful. I wanted to hug him.

My students so far: C., quiet and introspective; Q., long and lanky with a great sense of humor; and S., younger than the others with darting eyes and a soft voice.

We wrote, we shared, we talked about how grateful we are to be writers, to have that freedom to express ourselves. Each of us had that one teacher early on who called us out as writers, motivated and encouraged us. Told us we were good at something we thought until then was just for ourselves. Something to do, not something to be. The energy in the space was incredible — what happens when real connections are made between people. The time disappeared. Afterwards, I just made it the three blocks to my husband’s office before I burst into tears. I had found my gig.

Everything that’s happened to me — from Michigan to my four sons, from those teachers who called me out to the friends who got me through rejections and dismissals — was in preparation for this.

I’m heading back on Thursday, and every Thursday after that. We started Seven Cities Writers Project for a very simple reason. We have something to give to people who need it, and we are so grateful for the opportunity.

Lisa Hartz

“writing saved me, brought me whole through the years of fire”


Kathy Sarosdy

In 1977, when I was twenty years old, I saw a newspaper photograph of the writer Katherine Anne Porter; she, her private secretary, and a portrait artist stood in her casket, a fairly simple pine box hand-painted, as a child would, with bold, bright flowers. The trio’s happy acceptance of inevitable death, both one’s own and a loved one’s, astonished me. In contrast to the usual youthful “we are invincible” bravado, at that point in my life I was terrified of dying, so their blatant delight in the vessel of her final journey opened a whole new way of looking at life and death for me. Porter ordered the coffin only to discover when it arrived that it was rather oversized for someone as slight as she. According to an April 25, 2013 story in the online Atlantic magazine, Porter kept the “pine coffin in her apartment during her later years. . . . She enjoyed startling visitors by standing in it and commenting on the fit,” once inviting a reporter to hang his coat in it. What a strange old lady! While the delight people get in shocking others is de rigueur today, a stricter politeness reigned in the ‘70s. But twice in her twenties, including in the 1918 flu pandemic, she nearly died, so nearly that last rites were administered; I imagine that experience would embolden anyone. Her fierce embrace of death seems born both in defiance as well as an equally passionate grip on life.

Having been inspired by Porter’s photo and history to be less afraid of death, some years later I read David Ignatow’s “First Coffin Poem.” The speaker, in a coffin, suggests the reader take the coffin home and use it as a piece of furniture (“coffee table,” “bench,” “a conversation piece”). The image of dinner guests “standing about with glasses in their hands” while the coffin has “food and drinks served on it, and an ashtray,” was riotously funny to me. How much more useful to be a bench when one dies rather than a buried thing! I began to look at death as less of an enemy and more as just a guaranteed aspect of life. The ability to laugh at the inevitable, to appreciate the full course of one’s life, was such a gift. I was still unnerved by dead things (a squirrel on the sidewalk, whatever it was vultures were tearing up on the roadside), but I started to search for expressions and symbols of death out in the world. My love of art expanded into an appreciation for religious iconography, something I had not paid much attention to before. Though I never tried to write about death, I felt more comfortable thinking of humanity’s inexorable passing.

Then my parents got old.

And I hated death and age and change and God. I hated the doctor’s visits, the hearing aids, the Depends. I hated the diseases that robbed me of my mother and father, that turned me into their parent. I wanted at times to set the reams of paperwork on fire. More than anything, I wanted to go back in time and know my parents when they were young and perfect and beautiful. Strong. Healthy. I could change nothing. But I could write. So I wrote poems about my mother’s hallucinations, my father’s body twisted by stroke. I wrote about my distain for time. Seemingly countless ER visits and hospitalizations. Falls, deafness, medication screw-ups, hospice. Pureed food and failure-to-thrive. I wrote about the defeating burden of everything, and how I despised myself for writing about that. But writing saved me, brought me whole through the years of fire.

Recently I reread all the poems I wrote during those final four or five years. It is hard to admit, but I found many of them, especially the early ones, to be ugly and cruel. I told a poet friend that I was going to try to rewrite them. His response still makes me teary. He pointed out that though I may see the poems as unduly harsh, they also are unflinchingly honest; they are true feelings that can’t be discounted and should not be erased. He told me I had to write those poems to be able to write the superior poems I am writing today. So much of life is like that, but it was hard for me to see my work in those terms. My friend is right, as is his advice: I will not rewrite them, but I will take what I know now and make them better.

April 29 would have been my father’s 95th birthday. (He died at 90.) After work I drove out to Princess Anne Memorial Park, with its towering trees and shaded drive, to stand close to what used to be him, and my mother (who died in December) as well. I talked, listened, and cried, pressed my face against the bronze plaque and cold, brown-mottled marble wall covering the whatever it is you call what they are in—the drawer, to my mind. They are buried, no, they are encrypted, in a group mausoleum, on the third level of a six-story apartment of sorts. I appreciate the concession to the environment—stacked caskets have much less of a “footprint” than individual ones, which do take up so much land. Still, it’s weird.

On Mother’s Day about fifteen years ago, after a celebratory luncheon overlooking the wide and wild Chesapeake Bay, the whole family (my parents, me, my husband and son, plus my sister, her husband, and their son and daughter) stopped at the cemetery at Mom’s request so we all could see where she and my dad would end up, as they had recently purchased the spots. Most of the group felt an awkward discomfort, which was so odd to me. I remember being mad at myself for not having my camera in the car. Imagine a photograph of the entire family, especially the future inhabitants of the crypt, posing in front of the polished rock wall. The looks on everyone’s faces would have been extraordinary. It’s not a photo that many people would want to take or to keep, as my husband pointed out, but I regret not having it. I wonder if it would bring me special comfort to see Mom and Dad beaming there on a beautiful spring day, surrounded by loved ones, as opposed to the blank, voiceless façade I see there now. I wonder if it would make me smile. I think it would, but since that’s impossible, creating the photograph in words will be comfort and joy enough.

Demented, At 92

–for my sister

Sometimes you spit when you talk. Yesterday I was your mother,

tomorrow I might be your sister, or my sister. A fourth hearing aid

defies you, shakes free from wadded sheets. On New Year’s,

you toot a horn louder than the others, clink my glass, laugh

the soft way you used to. You fall, break; your body colors itself

like a map. I don’t know what’s going on at all, you say. You refuse

to eat your favorite foods. Unchecked, sodium and B-12 levels

plunge; madness takes over. You point to green slime oozing

from a ceiling vent: I took a wet deer leg and wiped it off. Your hair

spreads grey veins on a starched, white pillowcase. All the time now,

your voice is scratchy and loud. I read a found diary page; you recall

that tea dance, those couples. You wring your hands, tug your hair.

What can I do? What can I do? In firm refusal of physical therapy,

you squat, hug your knees. Control falls faster away, and in the

worst moments you question, Where is God? Your well-thumbed

Bible stares from the nightstand. He’s here, Mom, I lie. He’s here.

Too often, sleep takes you in mid-sentence. You tell visitors

of fantastic adventures. I pet your head: Your hand feels as good

as Mother’s. You forget Daddy is dead, wonder where he’s been.

Compliments still please you. Your face becomes the common one

the dying take on: all forehead, aquiline nose, sepulchral mouth.

You ask, Am I a real person? Small children visit or stand in the closet;

I’ve stopped insisting they’re a dream.

(previously published in Muddy River Poetry Review)

(AP photo courtesy blog.syracuse.com)