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…

View original post 352 more words

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…

View original post 17 more words

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

 

46 Catherine St.

From my poetry collection, I lost summer somewhere.

 

I hid behind the spirea bushes over there, by the steps,
chewed the bitter leaves, watched old Grandma Yonkers
in her lace up shoes and cotton hose mince slow,
slow, with her squeak-wheeled shopping cart,
an hour to the store and back. She never saw me,
or at least she didn’t say. The house is run down now.
Probably was then too, but kids don’t notice shabby
when it’s theirs. Screens are rusty, porch sags,
sidewalk buckled higher from the oak. Dad said
it should come out, but it’s outlived him and will outlive
me as well. Its acorn caps made high-pitched squeals
between my thumbs I crooked just so. We’d rake
its leather leaves in piles at the curb, light fires in the twilight,
watch embers spit into the blueblack dusk,
the scent of autumn in my hair.

Sarah Russell
First published in I lost summer somewhere
Photo Source

 

My First Collection is published!

I’m thrilled to announce that my first collection I lost summer somewhere has just been published and is available at Amazon and through Kelsay Books.

russell_front_april_19_revised_360x

Here are some of the great things my fellow poets have said about it.

“Melancholy, exuberance, nostalgia, fulfillment, contentment, longing – Sarah Russell hits all the spots, and there isn’t one poem where a woman won’t be able to identify in some way. She’s singing all our songs, putting into magical words things we felt so often but never knew how to tell. Deep sadness matched by laughter, gentleness, love and a sense of adventure. It was a privilege being there with her, living what she remembers, identifying with every line.”

Rose Mary Boehm, author of Tangents, From the Ruhr to Somewhere Near Dresden, and Peru Blues

*

“Sarah Russell brings us into her world, a world of “dream-filled summer nights,” where “leaves are October butterflies.” Russell’s poems sing the important moments of life. It’s a song that stays in your mind, drawing you back to the poems again and again.”

Nina Bennett, author of Mix Tape and The House of Yearning

*

“Sarah Russell’s poems don’t have to crawl under your skin – they’ve always been there. If you haven’t known a suicide, or gone through divorce or cancer, you’ve known the fear. If you’ve never had a love you’d marry twice if you had three lives, you’ve felt the longing. Russell may have lost summer somewhere, but she has found what makes us human.”

Alarie Tennille, author of Waking on the Moon and Running Counterclockwise

Donny, 1968

My short memoir “Donny” won second prize in the Writer Advice memoir contest. Click here to read all four winning entries.

*

Every afternoon at 2:10, twenty-five kids—all elbows, knees and hormones—thundered into my classroom for what even they called “Dumdum English.” It was my first year of teaching, and I had just turned 21. They were 17 and 18. But the gulf between us was adult/child, warden/prisoner. They tested every day to make sure I was still in charge. My mother’s advice, after 30 years in the classroom: “Don’t smile until Thanksgiving. Smile again just before Christmas.”

Donny sat curled in his desk, shriveled into an old man’s protective shape. While the others flailed and groaned and periodically lashed out, Donny remained a silent, cocooned spirit. He smelled sour, and the others avoided sitting near him. He seemed only half aware in class, yet when I asked for volunteers to read parts in Julius Caesar, he raised his hand to be the Soothsayer and scrunched his voice into a wail  for “Beware the Ides of March!” He pronounced it ID-EES, but no one corrected him.

I worried about this solitary, broken boy and looked into his record— failed fosters, group homes, abuse, locked in a cellar for days as a toddler. No wonder he shied when I passed him in the aisle. No wonder his assignments were often forgotten or half finished, with so many misspelled words and fragment sentences that I didn’t mark all of them for fear he would shut down completely.

Toward spring, Donny produced an essay of three laborious paragraphs—erased, smudged, rewritten. But there was logic in his argument, a sequence, only three misspelled words. I marked the dog-eared masterpiece an A.

The next day when I returned his paper, Donny stared at it unbelieving, and as I passed his desk, he reached out to pull at my sleeve. “Teacher, this is the first A I ever got,” he said. I told him he’d done a fine job and reached out to pat his shoulder, but he winced, then met my eyes and smiled an apology. For the rest of the hour, I saw his fingers tracing over the “A” with a kind of reverence.

The next fall, I learned Donny had left school to join the army, and just before Christmas he came back in uniform. His back was straight, his head high. When he visited my class, I asked what the ribbons on his uniform stood for. “This one means I got a promotion—Private First Class,” he said. “And this one means I can shoot a rifle good.” The kids were impressed, and a couple of girls flirted with him. “I’m shipping out for Nam right after Christmas,” he told us. “Gonna see the world.” After class when we said goodbye, there was an awkward moment when I knew he wanted to hug me, but he shook my hand instead. I wished him luck, and this time when I patted his shoulder, he grinned.

Toward spring I heard that Donny had been killed in action.

Years later when I visited the Vietnam Memorial, I found his name, and my fingers traced over it, just as his had in class that day.

After the Fact


There’s the Fact,

and After the Fact –
the silence of a new apartment,
hugging the kids too hard,
watching them manipulate.
It’s his telling friends you took him
to the cleaners, cold stares
at soccer games.

After the fact
is buying hundred dollar jeans,
then eating ramen for a week,
lying about your age,
your weight.  It’s wondering
if they’re mama’s boys
or gays still in the closet,
what to do with small talk,
stretch marks,  settling for a 6
because you’re horny.

The Fact’s a piece of cake.

Sarah Russell
First published in Rusty Truck
Painting source