Berith Arragh Hogan, Creative Nonfiction, Featured

They, Me & the Sea

by Berith Arragh Hogan

Since first the ticks of time recorded me in attendance I have made a yearly pilgrimage to Cape Ann on Massachusetts’s rocky North Shore – on some lucky, and some sad, occasions the trip has exceeded the yearly dictate. Funerals, weddings, Thanksgivings, spring breaks, and deathbeds dot the calendar in between.

I have driven, flown, or taken the train. I’ve broken down, turned around, and wept as a young lady trying to get from North Station to South Station (or was it the other way around?) to board the commuter rail. I’ve clocked in at six hours flat from my home base in the suburbs of Philadelphia, and I have made it in twelve when circumstances conspired against me. I cannot imagine, though, a distance long enough to prevent me from making the trek.

My mother, Jane, married into the deep dark of the North Atlantic when she wed her first husband, David, a thousand ebbing tides ago in 1963. They had a daughter Kira and a son Micheal, my eldest and only sister and the oldest of my brothers four. The marriage to the man did not last, but his mother Nadia, his sister Julia, and the ocean churning invited her back year after year – even after her second marriage to my father Michael, yielded a raucous family with no shared blood. A lent-out lineage legacy lasting generations beyond the dissolved union of its origin.

I joined the family’s yearly caravan north with my natal arrival in 1981. My mind in its infancy had no words or shapes assembled to log the sprawling stays of lazy summer weeks – but by the time my sentience had garnered such capabilities the tidal pools of coastal rocks had always hosted starfish, snails, and younger swimmers. The nooks of the sea-blackened boulders had always offered precarious perches to be shared with mussels, seaweed, and barnacles. Blueberries had always been plucked warm from their bushes along forest paths leading to the abandoned granite quarries we swam in. There is no frame of my memory’s blink untouched by the crashing waves or lazy eddies offered by Cape Ann’s Rockport, and Rockport’s Pigeon Cove.

The water was already haunted by the time I got there, swallowing so many of Gloucester’s fishermen. Even Nadia’s son Daniel had walked out into the hungry sea. But despite, or in thanks, or in indifference, the ghosts I spied in her waves bore power equal in sadness and in peace. Both moonrise by the settled sea and the violent crashes of storm-swelled surf carved an ache out of my heart before the heartbreaks had been enacted. The ocean warned me of the pain there would be.

My brother Daniel was the first ghost of my lifetime. His time on earth ending at the age of twenty-two. My world breaking at sweet seventeen. Nadia left not that much after, my borrowed grandmother with the house by the sea.

The ocean did not change her story. Not once did she ever mislead. Still when my mother passed twenty years after my brother the pain shocked me with its depth and its crash. The worst heartbreak was offered just after. Four months later I lost my infant daughter, my sweetest Margot, now tucked forever in her sleep. The depths of the lightless black pressure of this loss traversed only by creatures designed by its deep.

I return to the ocean in three days now, with my husband Will and our four living children in tow. We will stay at the home of my Aunt Julia, once Nadia’s. The same weathered house perched at the crest of the deep ocean’s shore. We will meet there two of my brothers, Jake and Joshua, their children, and Jake’s wife Hilary who has been joining us for more than twenty years now. My aging father will still venture the journey. The fleeting tick of time grants each gathering an unsolicited nostalgia.

So, gather we will on the cusp of the sea’s rhythmed, beating shore. The children will bathe in her cold majesty. Her magic will render us all under her spell. There will be peace in the calm of her power. She doesn’t lie, no, she could never. She tells a tale and I now know the story. I know more shapes and words than I wish I could assemble. While she smooths the bones of my ghosts, my beloveds, she whispers the song of my spirits in her gale.

Featured, Poetry, Theresa Hickey

Dappled Days

by Theresa Hickey

The grandeur of sky and sea is awesome, but
in an orchard, one notices
small wonders every season

Each turn of weather
bears fruit, cleaving to the vines
clinging for clemency from storms

Dimpled valentines of berries,
tiny jewels—red and radiant
black and blue—fill baskets

Pierced in their prime, flushed
pinks and reds, noble nectars flow
from peaches, plucked from branches

In autumn, apples line rows of meadows.
Succulent still, as once to Eve; the apple’s
robust beauty tempts each hidden desire

Hardy seeds become the fruit of life
and we, our sight and taste reborn
from fertile soil the farmer tills,
are awed in silent ways
as we eat our fill
to offer thanks and praise
for dappled days

 

This poem appears in Theresa’s poetry collection, Shy, published by Finishing Line Press.

Featured, Poetry, Theresa Hickey

Of Water and Sea

by Theresa Hickey

We, who dot
        the parched land, need oceans
                   of resiliency to sustain prevailing winds
                             that we might grow in courage
                                         that we might not grow old
                                                               before our time

We watch as tides
        come in-go out, but rarely do we
                   seek the comfort of the sea
                             to show us mercy, refresh us
                                         so that dreams do
                                                               not run dry

Breathe in—absorb her wisdom,
        each ebb and flow spills out a melodic mantra—
                   a universal mother,
                             she carries off upon her crests
                                         the fears a cynical world provokes—
                                                               as we breathe out

With every breaking wave,
        each shift of current washes us
                   as we become reborn
                             destined to become her children—
                                         powerful
                                                           free

This poem appears in Theresa’s poetry collection, Shy, published by Finishing Line Press.

Elaine Reardon, Featured, Poetry

Nan

by Elaine Reardon

In Cambridge it’s snowing softly, and Nan
sets the table for Sunday supper. She reaches
into the fridge for butter, cold slices of ham,

a jar of pigs feet. We crowd chairs around the
table. I sit on Mum’s lap with a slice of bread,
butter, ham. Not food I’m used to. Mum and I

are quiet. I wonder who was here earlier for dinner,
why we only come for leftovers, late in the day.
My older Irish cousins show me how to play games

I don’t know yet, and Nan hands me a rectangular tin
with two handles. She says for you, a lunchbox.
I wonder at it. It’s very small, and I have a Roy Roger’s

lunch box at home. She doesn’t know what I have there,
where I live with my Armenian grandmother, where
we speak another language, where dad whispers to me

in Irish, sings lullabies and tells me stories at bedtime.
I’m not used to having extra anything, and I’m doubtful
of this gift. She offers you can use it to pick blueberries.

When summer comes we pile into our car, pick up Nan,
my cousins, and Aunt Maureen to pick berries in Stoughton.
We walk along the dead end road, run in Paul’s sheep field,

slip past the fence to Glen Echo Lake. We have purple lips
and tongues. This is a day of heaven, swimming, and comfort.
Wild blueberries plonk on the bottom of my special tin.

 

This poem appears in Elaine’s chapbook, Look Behind You, published by Flutter Press, fall 2019

Creative Nonfiction, Featured, Jennifer E. Tirrell

Gertrude’s Gifts

by Jennifer E. Tirrell

Aunt Gertrude was my father’s eldest sister. She came to visit us from time-to-time, but she never stayed long. Uncle Nate was kind, but anti-social, and waited in the car while my Aunt came in for her visit. Aunt Gertrude was very plain, with short white hair, brown eyes and a smile that looked like the one I saw in the mirror. She never failed to send me a birthday message, usually written in a simple note card with a bluebird on the front, or a cardinal, or maybe a flower. On the inside she would write to me about the birds that came to her feeder, and other quiet happenings in and around her yard in the town of Cohasset, on the South Shore of Boston. I knew she cared about me, and because she was connected to the father I never knew, I was very interested in her. When I was asked if I would like to stay with her for a week during summer vacation, I said “yes.”

I had never been to their house before, and I felt strange at first, being an insecure child; never truly knowing where I belonged. My parents had died when I was very young. A change-of-life baby, I had siblings who were quite a bit older. The oldest, a sister, soon adopted me and I became part of a new family which included several additional “siblings.” As I grew, I struggled to understand my place in the new order, sensing that I belonged, yet didn’t belong. I was now a daughter to my sister, a sister to my nieces and nephews, and somehow still a sister to my natural brother and sister, who had children of their own.

Butterflies swirled in my stomach as we pulled into the treelined driveway and I caught a glimpse of their tall, straight, house. Once inside, I followed closely as we zig zagged through what I thought might be their living room. My mind grappled with what my eyes were seeing; bookcases overflowing with books, antique furniture pieces randomly placed, dishes and knick-knacks squeezed onto every surface. Only later would I learn how special these treasures were, each piece carefully researched and selected.

We came to a staircase, which was narrow and steep, and my Aunt waved me upwards. “Your bedroom is the one on the right.” The stairs creaked as I climbed and when I got to the landing I waited, uncertain. “Go on. It’s that one.” She was watching from below, pointing, so I turned and stepped into the room. Whitewashed walls were lit by sunlight that streamed in through two wide windows framed with crisp cotton curtains. There were little balls on the trim, I noticed. The bed was covered in a faded yellow quilt. Beside the bed was a book. Curious, I put my bag down and picked the book up for a minute before heading back down.

“Do you like to read, Jenny?” My Aunt was leading me through the maze to the porch, a screened room about 8’ wide with a daybed in one corner. “This is where I like to read. Maybe you’ll try it.” I nodded my head and looked at the bed. Soft, worn pillows were lined across the back in rose-covered fabric. I loved to read but never had enough books. I re-read books over and over, including the 3 encyclopedias of short stories my new parents kept on the bookshelf in our living room. I had read Little Women at least five times already, and it never got old. “I left a book on your bedside table,” said Aunt Gertrude. “It’s one of my favorites.” We passed a small cherry desk and I ran my fingers along the surface. “Your Dad used to sit at this desk and do his homework. That’s him, there, in the picture.” She picked up a small black and white photo and I saw a young man on the bow of a sailboat. After I looked at it for a minute, she turned. “Let’s go out and pick some pears off the old pear tree.”

I climbed up the rickety ladder and she handed me a broom stick attached to a jagged-topped coffee can. “Just find a pear and put the can around it, Jenny. Let the sharp edges cut it off. It will fall right into the can.” It worked. I was amazed. Next Aunt Gertrude and I walked to the edge of her large back yard and at the base of a really big tree, she showed me a hole. “This tree has been here for more than 100 years,” she said, “and there is a family of bunnies living here now. If we wait very quietly, we may see one come out of this hole.” She pointed to the base of the tree and I saw a dark spot. We crouched together on the grass, a little ways away and were silent together for a long time. It felt good just to wait and not have to talk. Our patience was rewarded and my heart leapt as a black nose peeked out of the hole! It was such a thrill to see that little bunny.

Later, with nothing to do, I picked up the book she had left in my room. Anne of Green Gables was the title. As quietly as the stairs allowed, I made my way to the porch. A gentle wind rustled the leaves on the trees, competing with the breeze from the tick of the fan. I pulled a worn afghan up over my bare legs, then, leaning back against the pillows, I began to read.

Anne was an orphan. I was an orphan, too. My father died in a canoe accident several months before I was born. When I was 3 years old, my mother dropped her car keys and fell out of the car onto the ground suffering a fatal aneurysm. I was left sitting alone on the front seat until help arrived. Anne’s parents died of typhoid fever. She was left alone in the world without any other relations. Our lives were quite different, of course, but Anne and I had a lot in common. It helped to read of Anne’s struggles. I liked to read how even the hard things always worked out for the best. I saw how she attached to her new parents, but that they still fought and had to work through their differences. Anne had a bosom buddy, Diana. I thought about my best friend back home. Pausing after reading the words ‘kindred spirit,” I wondered if I had a kindred spirit, too. What a lovely week of imagining. I was hooked. I read the whole series during the week, and I was gifted with the first edition set of books when I left. Over the years, she gifted me with other books like Freckles, A Girl of the Limberlost, The Little Colonel series, and Dear Enemy. They are treasured possessions to me now.

I think Aunt Gertrude left that particular book on the bedside table in the little room at the top of the creaky staircase on purpose. Maybe, on her visits to our house, she noticed that I seemed a little lost. Maybe she was my kindred spirit, and perceived that she could offer me something that would ease the turmoil in my young world. She invited me to her home, and gave me rest. She did not often use words, but instead, used her actions to teach and guide.

That week when I was 10 years old she showed me how peace and wisdom reveal themselves in simplicity and quiet. She opened up the world of old books and the sweet purity of their stories. She taught me to slow down as I read, and to take time to breathe in the wonderfully musty scent that rose up as I turned the pages very slowly and carefully. She showed me how to sit quietly by old trees and listen and watch for miracles. Through her storytelling, family heirlooms came alive. Best of all, she taught me that I can find my smile in someone else’s face and feel belonging.

 

Creative Nonfiction, Featured, Jesseca P. Timmons

Agatha

by Jesseca P. Timmons

One September, in the 1970s, my parents went away for a whole week, and old friends came to stay with my twin sister and me. Back then, my parents were deep into their homesteading phase. Our friends David and Sally Synder, with their two boys, had most recently been living in a luxurious gated community in Panama. But they were delighted to spend a week in the New England countryside with the two of us, our two dogs, a hostile cat, two pigs (Statler and Waldorf), a dozen chickens, four turkeys, and four sheep (Paul, John, George and Ringo).

My sister and I were excited to have the Snyders stay with us. They made food we had never even heard of, like tacos and burritos, and they played salsa music on the stereo. They had no idea what time we were supposed to go to bed, and let us watch as much TV as we wanted. At that time, our favorite thing to do was make fairy houses in the woods—with Mom and Dad away, we were now free to do that for hours on end, until it got dark in the short fall days—it was bliss.

The first three days of the visit were peaceful. My sister and I would play the woods after school, then head back up to the house to find tacos on the table, the boys doing their homework, and David and Sally having a cocktail and watching the news. But on the fourth day—on our way back from the very large tree deep in the woods where we were constructing an entire mouse-sized apartment building with sticks and moss—we came across a scene of hideous carnage: Louis, our English setter, had somehow gotten into the pasture and killed the turkeys.

Hulking black bodies were scattered around the pasture. Heads hung limp or were torn off, and feathers carpeted the ground. Louis was dashing from carcass to carcass, his tail wagging frantically, beside himself with joy. My sister and I screamed and cried at him, pulling him off the birds by his collar, and calling him what Dad would have no doubt called him at that moment—”Louis, you goddamn sonofabitch dog!”

After dragging Louis out of the pasture and closing the gate, my sister and I ran screaming to the house. Sally came running to the door in a panic—had we been hit by a car? Bitten by a rattlesnake? Shot by poachers? I threw open the sliding glass door, sobbing, “Louis got the turkeys!” The entire Snyder family—the two boys taking a moment out of pummeling each other for the remote control—froze in disbelief. David and Sally—who were really city people—stared at each other in mute horror. They had expected to take care of our house in the country and the livestock—but now there had been a massacre!

We all went down to the pasture—David, running first, with a grim look on his face and probably thinking back to his time in the Peace Corps; the boys, shoving each other in an attempt to get there first; and finally, Sally, with her arms around my sister and me, trying to comfort us and telling us Louis couldn’t help it—he was, born and bred, a bird dog. David first checked on the sheep: Ringo seemed a little freaked out, but they were all fine, huddled together in the farthest corner of the pasture. Then we all stood in the pasture, looking down at the dead birds—body parts, claws, feathers, and blood. Even the boys were reverently silent. Then David said, “Wait—weren’t there four? There are only three here!”

He was right. There was one missing. A survivor! And then, Sally saw her: perched precariously in a huge pine tree over the pigpen, tilted sideways on the branch, her feathers disheveled, was one shell-shocked but surviving turkey.

My sister said, “Let’s name her Agatha.”

The next day, Agatha came down from the tree and began staggering around on the ground. When we got home from school, we rushed straight down to the pasture to see her. It had been a close call for Agatha: her rear end was now partly bald and she was missing all her beautiful tail feathers. Never, as a turkey, had she possessed the most intelligent of facial expressions, but now Agatha looked like she had been hit over the head with a brick. Her head stayed tipped sideways. She made confused croaking noises and seemed unable to walk in a straight line. David and Sally watched her lurch and stumble around with their hands pressed over their mouths in horror. David—father of boys—suggested that maybe he should put her out of her misery, but the horrified gasps from my sister and me ended that discussion.

My sister and I decided we would spend every spare second with Agatha until she recovered from her trauma. We ran back to the house and loaded up with supplies: a selection of crackers (we weren’t sure what Agatha liked—I thought Cheez-Its, my sister thought Wheat Thins), a tub of Port wine cheese, two bottles of ginger ale, canoe cushions to sit on, and several different Trixie Belden mysteries. (We chose ones that made frequent mention of Trixie’s chickens.)

Ignoring the stares of complete disbelief from the Snyder boys (“You’re going to read books to the turkey?”), we headed down to the pasture where we found Agatha wandering in the corner behind the raspberry patch. We set out canoe cushions on either side of her, carefully placed the crackers within her reach, and settled down to read to her. She seemed to like it—she stayed pretty close to us (maybe it was the crackers). When she ambled too far away we would get up and move our cushions, until it was dinner time, and we had to bid her farewell for the night.

When our parents got back from their trip, David and Sally—who had been sitting silently in our living room for hours in a state of suspended dread—greeted them at the door with such somber faces that my mom thought for a moment that one of us must have died. When Sally tearfully told them that Louis had gotten in the pasture and killed most of the turkeys, my mom started laughing, “Oh, Jesus Christ, Sally—the turkeys? You scared me half to death!” Our dad was a little more distressed, but since the culprits were his beloved hunting dog and his closest friends, all he could do was mutter about the boys leaving the gate open (which was patently unfair, as the boys had never been in the pasture). But my sister and I had no problem letting them take the blame—which probably didn’t do a lot for our relationship.

My sister and I continued our daily visits with Agatha for months, until it got too cold and dark to be outside after school. Then Dad announced that Agatha would have to go live with someone who had a barn. After what she had been through, he did not have the heart to send her to the butcher—she now had a name, cracker preferences, and a favorite Trixie Belden adventure (Book #3-The Gatehouse Mystery). We offered her to a friend who lived down the road on a farm. Agatha lived through the winter in the barn, but sometime the following summer, our friend told us she had disappeared. We took it well—Dad reminded us that Agatha would have been Thanksgiving dinner had it not been for the massacre.

A few years after that, an article appeared in our local paper: “Mystery Bird Alarms Neighborhood.” The article described how some hikers on local conservation land been completely astonished to come across a hulking, bald-headed, bare-butted bird wandering in the woods. One person was quoted as saying, “It was the size of a golden retriever!” Someone else wondered if the strange bird was rabid, because of the way it walked in circles. Another person in the group thought it was some kind of rare vulture out of its normal habitat. Calls were made to the Audubon Society, and volunteers were searching the woods for the strange bird. At that time, there were no wild turkeys in New England—it was a few years before they were re-introduced and made the epic comeback that now finds them around every corner.

My dad re-read the article and realized the bird had been spotted in between our house and our friend’s house. He laughed so hard he nearly fell off his chair.

“Oh my heavens, girls,” he gasped. “It’s Agatha!”

Agatha was alive! Possibly, she was headed back to our house to find some more Port wine cheese, or to find out how The Gatehouse Mystery ended. But we never saw her again. Perhaps, Agatha, the survivor, is out there still.

Featured, Poetry, Yvona Fast

Dormant Stillness

by Yvona Fast

Trees clad in rainbows,
One final burst of glory.
Last dip in pond refreshes
on a bright October day.

Brown leaves decay, die.
Summer sighs
a sad sound of goodbye.

Days shorten, nights lengthen.
We plant tulips in anticipation
of new growth, fresh green,
of long, warm summer days.

Crocus waits beneath soil.
Trees lie dormant.
Bears hibernate.
Earth sleeps, rests,
awaiting renewal
beneath a white blanket.

The pond chills,
shivers,
freezes…
we walk on water.

In the stillness
thoughts simmer, ideas slumber
fallow, nurturing future dreams.

Diving into the deep,
minds open to possibilities
yet unimagined.

Ann B. Day, Featured, Poetry

One Last Sweet Breath

by Ann B. Day

The last of summer lingers still,
captured in a golden field
beyond the leafless woods.
I’ve come upon it
quite unexpectedly!

Gone are summer sounds
of humming bees and katydids.
They have fled
the early frosts of fall.

Instead, a gentle breeze
stirs the graying goldenrod,
and sun-warmed soil and yellow grass
glow beneath my feet.

Last week we had an early snow,
frosting morning meadows
and whitening pasture slopes
on autumn’s hillside farms.

Nearby, woods were cold and damp,
where scattered sunlight
slipped through bare branches
to dapple leafy paths below.

But, today November’s
noonday sun has filled this field
with hints of summer smells
and tawny tints.

A hidden place I came-upon,
where summer lingers still;
one last sweet breath
before the winter chill.