Leavings

My poem “Leavings” was just published by Silver Birch Press. I’ll post the poem here, as well as a link to the Silver Birch site. On the site, I tell a little bit about writing the poem.

Leavings

Leavings are untidy. Remembering
what you want to say as the car pulls away,
or the cell phone drops into your purse,
restraint in an embrace, the casual

see ya, when you ache for more.
There was that time my mother died—
a stiff, proud woman who did not touch.
She lay in bed, while her brothers and I

hovered. We asked if she needed a blanket,
if she wanted music, if she were hungry,
thirsty. At each offering, she jerked her head
from side to side, tight-lipped, angry.

Then the young, Hispanic hospice aide reached
out and took her hand. She knew what leavings
needed, what my mother couldn’t bring herself
to ask for, what we didn’t understand to give.

My mother sighed and held that gentle,
reassuring hand. The aide leaned in, caressed
a wisp of hair on her forehead. My mother smiled,
and took her last breaths.

Unmasked by Sarah Russell (WEARING A MASK Series)

My poem “Unmasked” was just published by Silver Birch Press. Thank you, Melanie, for organizing these themed poetry events.

Silver Birch Press

denise-jans-hFkjrSF8JtE-unsplash 2copyUnmasked
by Sarah Russell

I shivered when I took them off,
those masks of forty years —
goodgirlgooddaughtergoodstudentgoodwifegoodmothergoodgoodgood.
I stood naked in a new day.
Who was left?
Could I find her?
Would I love her?
Would anyone?
I set out to build a woman
without masks.
It took a while.
I lost people
and found others —
fewer than before.
They knew me when we met.
I knew them.
None of us wore masks.
All of us were naked.
But the sun was warm on our skin.

Photo by Denise Jans on Unsplash

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: It took tears, rage, alienation, and some deep regrets to find the woman who lived behind masks other people expected me to wear. The peace I feel was worth it.

RussellABOUT THE AUTHOR: Sarah Russell’s poetry and fiction have been published in Kentucky Review, Silver Birch Press, Red River Review, Misfit Magazine…

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BOOK REVIEW – I LOST SUMMER SOMEWHERE – BY SARAH RUSSELL

A great review by Charles Robert Lindholm – The Reluctant Poet. Thank you so much, Chuck!

The Reluctant Poet

I LOST SUMMER SOMEWHERE - COVER
Reviewed By Charles Robert Lindholm – The Reluctant Poet

Reading Sarah’s Book – I Lost Summer Somewhere
Is Like Opening A Box Of Chocolates Late At Night And Taking Just One,
Only To Find As You Are Reaching To Turn Out The Light
That You’ve Eaten The Whole Box In A Single Sitting!!  You Just Couldn’t Help Yourself!!!

I Started Reading Sarah’s Book During An Extreme Texas Thunder Storm
At Five O’clock In The Morning To Flashes Of Lightning And Rolling Thunder
And Didn’t Stop Turning Pages Until The Storm Was Long Gone And I Reached The Final Page!  A Mesmerizing And Delightful Journey For Me.

Robert Frost Is My Favorite Poet.   After Years Of Reading Thousands Of Poems From Other Poets To Share With Followers On My Blog, I Have Finally Found In Sarah’s Writing, A Poet Who Is Able To Capture The Same Wondrous Feelings, Observations Of Life…

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Review in But Does It Rhyme

Sally Zakariya, Poetry Editor for Richer Resources Publications, has posted a lovely review of my book in their blog But Does It Rhyme. Thanks so much,  Sally!

A Moving Journey

Sometimes you get the feeling you know a person you’ve never actually met. It’s like that with Sarah Russell. We “met” online some years ago, swapping poems and comments on Goodreads, and now that I’ve had a chance to read her moving collection I lost summer somewhere, I almost feel she’s been writing not just her life but mine. And other women’s too.

Published by Kelsay Books, Russell’s collection takes the reader on a deeply moving journey through childhood, marriage, motherhood, and on. Her often brief poems show a deft touch: “Our fights were a barrage of arrows / going to the softest places, / as if everything depended / on the outcome,” she says in “Early Marriage.” Just four short lines, but a volume of meaning.

Equally striking is her three-stanza “Choice,” which begins with the poet holding her daughter’s hand during what could only have been an abortion and ends, “ ‘The baby would be in college now,’ / she said to me the other day. / ‘I know,’ I said.”

A retired professor and editor, Russell has had a second life as an accomplished doll maker. In creating her dolls, she draws on her studies of myth and legend, imbuing her small sculptures (it seems almost a slight to call them merely “dolls”) with the same spirit and empathy she brings to her poetry.

Reflective, elegiac, powerful – the poems tell hard truths about hard topics like miscarriage, cancer, abortion, and divorce, and give gentle reminders of the soothing power of nature, the comfort of love. And the inevitable advance of age:

The novel in my head
has only time to be
a poem without last lines
to tell the reader
if she learned to love
the baby, if what the gypsy
said came true, if the letter
was from him.

So ends her poem “In my 70s.” And if the gypsy told Russell she would be a gifted poet, it did indeed come true.

 

 

Review in Scintilla

My thanks to Scintilla.Info for a wonderful review of my poetry collection. Here it is:

Book Review: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Poetry: I lost summer somewhere, Sarah Russell

Local (State College, PA) poet Sarah Russell has given us a collection of poems that are heartfelt and moving. I lost summer somewhere is poignant, elegant, and sometimes emotionally raw. Reading it drew me into a world of love and loss, of new love found, of letting go of an aging parent piece by piece, of being with someone at their most vulnerable point, of watching granddaughters grow into a world we could never have imagined. At times it was a nerve-wracking white-knuckled journey through life. But it is hard to find someone relate that journey with the grace, beauty, and dignity that Russell achieves.

Anyone who has ever been in love can both relate to and laugh with her poem, “If I Had Three Lives.” She starts,

“If I had three lives, I’d marry you in two.”

This humorous look at love then goes on to imagine her life where she did not marry him: writing, reading lots of books, vacationing in Maine, practicing yoga…and then admitting,

“And I’d wonder sometimes / if I’d ever find you.”

This quirky love poem acknowledges that marriage has changed her in ways that might not always meet her ideal (“I’d be thinner in that life, vegan”), but in two of three lives she would choose him and in the third life she’d long for him. Honestly, that’s more than a lot of us get!

The titular poem is a metaphor for aging. The poet realizes that she has entered a stage of life when geese have abandoned their nests and wildflowers have finished their blooms. I love how she says to the geese as they leave,

“I’ll stay here, I tell them, I’ll air out / cedared cardigans. chop carrots / for the soup tonight, cross / the threshold of the equinox, / try not to stumble.”

Any of us watching the years spin by faster and faster can appreciate both the sense of loss and the acceptance of our future, whatever that may be.

Although the poems offer much to every reader, I believe that women would especially appreciate Russell’s perspectives. She writes as the wife who watches a marriage crumble, as the mother there with a daughter making a difficult choice and living with that, as the grandmother advising her middle-school granddaughter. Sometimes, like in Learning to Play Baseball, she is the bemused woman struggling to communicate with a man. She is the woman watching herself age, falling in love again, appreciating new seasons of life.

That being said, this book is not “for” women or men. It is for anyone who loves language, who loves poetry, for anyone who has loved and anyone who is watching an aging parent decline, for anyone who has enjoyed an “Indian Summer” of life and found a second love and held a child. Sarah Russell’s poems are beautiful and passionate, and I lost summer somewhere is a special collection.

Yokogami Yaburi

This poem just won a “Poem of Merit” award in the One Sentence Poetry contest at Third Wednesday literary journal. It’s also one of the poems in my poetry collection I lost summer somewhere.

 

Yokogami-yaburi
is Japanese for tearing paper
against the grain —
like that article you want to keep
but don’t wait for scissors
and rip into the story so the gist
is lost, or being stuck at 40
in living-the-dream, left holding the bag
of groceries or laundry or dirty diapers,
so you hide your stretch marks in a one-piece,
toss your hair like Farrah, and smile at strangers
on the beach while the kids make sand castles,
or open a bottle at 10 a.m., or shop for things
you’ll hide when you get home so when he asks
in two weeks you can say, “Oh, this old thing,”
or spend the afternoon online with men
who suggest a motel tryst — men whose photos
look suspiciously like the guy on page 34 of GQ —
just to see how far you can tear against the grain
before the gist is lost.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Third Wednesday
Photo Source
for d’Verse Open Link night

Because of the Clinic I am Alive to Tell You This

I’m lucky — not wise, or circumspect, or chaste — just lucky that I have not had an abortion. Thank you, Ann Kestner, for this poem.

Poetry Breakfast

Because of the Clinic, I Am Alive to Tell You This

I have come here almost alone, with only my self
and my dying baby. It is too early to be this sick.
No woman could survive a pregnancy like this.
There is no crowded waiting room here,
and yet the room is so full of energy and emotion
that the air seems compressed and hard to breathe.

A woman is crying, sitting at the edge of her chair,
her head bowed. In front of her a man speaks
in a language I once tried to learn but never did.
He towers over her like a fierce giant
waving his arms, his legs spread like a boxer.
One does not need to understand the words.
If she keeps the baby, he will kill her.

They call me back, gently, to a calm and quiet room.
I sit beside a woman…

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Drought Town

Ryan Stone paints a bleak picture of drought in this outstanding poem. Ryan blogs at https://daysofstone.wordpress.com. Photo source.

Eunoia Review

This is the summer of red dust. Everything
sucked dry—hollow as cicada husks, wedged
under eaves and porch stairs—waiting
for a wind change. On the road out of town,
empty grain silos loom, perched like headstones
over wheat-field graves. Harvesters sag, tyres
cracked like the asphalt. Rotting carcasses
litter riverless beds—tongues swollen,
flyblown, unslaked. First, a wheeze,
then my pickup spews steam. It dies in a ditch
under a burnt-orange sun. Tiger snake chunks
graffiti the hood’s underside, one blind eye bulging
from the torn head. It must have sought shade
or wiper water—sliding up from the parched earth
miles back. Now it’s just one more dead thing
in a land of dead things. This is the summer
of red dust. It swirls and the road ahead blurs.

Ryan Stone writes after midnight in Melbourne, Australia. He lives beside Sherbrooke Forest with his wife, two young sons, a German shepherd…

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The Lanyard

This poem by Billy Collins is my favorite tribute to mothers and the children who give them things.

The Lanyard
By Billy Collins

The other day as I was ricocheting slowly
off the blue walls of this room
bouncing from typewriter to piano
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
I found myself in the ‘L’ section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word, Lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one more suddenly into the past.
A past where I sat at a workbench
at a camp by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid thin plastic strips into a lanyard.
A gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard.
Or wear one, if that’s what you did with them.
But that did not keep me from crossing strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy, red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted teaspoons of medicine to my lips,
set cold facecloths on my forehead
then led me out into the airy light
and taught me to walk and swim and I in turn presented her with a lanyard.
‘Here are thousands of meals’ she said,
‘and here is clothing and a good education.’
‘And here is your lanyard,’ I replied,
‘which I made with a little help from a counselor.’
‘Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth and two clear eyes to read the world.’ she whispered.
‘And here,’ I said, ‘is the lanyard I made at camp.’
‘And here,’ I wish to say to her now,
‘is a smaller gift. Not the archaic truth,
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took the two-toned lanyard from my hands,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless worthless thing I wove out of boredom
would be enough to make us even.’

The Fold

I’m so honored to have this poem published in Third Wednesday near one by Ted Kooser. Fine company indeed! This poem is also included in my poetry collection I lost summer somewhere.

The Fold

          “The corners of death fold us into ourselves”
– Loretta Diane Walker

Mother and I are sniping. This visit
has been that way. The farm is rundown
as she is now at 94, bent over her walker,
bare-knuckled in her independence.
She says I mumble. I say she never listens.
We know this game. I’m packing to go home,
and she calls, “Do you want breakfast?”
I mutter yes, knowing she won’t hear.
It starts again.

I’m her favorite and visit least. I’ll look back
on this weekend, feel guilt. She will win
another round. This time when we hug goodbye,
there are no tears. As I drive away I glance
back to make sure she’s in the doorway,
watching.

Sarah Russell
First published in Third Wednesday
Painting by Mark Tinsdale