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.

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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

Cusp

Yesterday’s south wind rushed warmth
to February snow. Today the earth
is boggy with new grass, tattered white
in crannies on north sides of things.
Daffodils finger their way toward light,
and old women’s feet no longer tremble
on their way to market.

 

Sarah Russell
First published in Your Daily Poem
Painting by James Coates
For Real Toads TuesdayPlatform

 

La Visite

She sat in a high-backed chair on the nursing home’s veranda, posture perfect for a woman of 95, her hand poised on the gold handle of her cane. She didn’t turn her head to greet me, but when I came into view, she smiled and fluttered a hand toward a chair across from her. “Hello, Lily.”

My name is Amanda, but I didn’t correct her. “Hello, Elizabeth,” I said. I had never called her Grandma.

“You didn’t bring violets, Lily.”

“They weren’t fresh at the florist’s today,” I lied.

“A shame. I do love a violet nosegay. François always brought me a nosegay.”

‘François?”

“The only man I allowed to kiss my hand,” she said. “Most are so crude, you know. They raise one’s hand to their lips. The true gentleman bows to the proffered hand, brushes it with his lips and a tickle of his mustache. Ah yes,” she mused. “François…”

“You never mentioned him before.”

“He was a fairly short-lived liaison à Paris. I was there to visit my cousin Odette.” She paused. “Maman didn’t know Odette’s obsession, you see.”

“And what was that?”

“Me.”

“Oh,” I said. “Of course.”

“Yes, of course.” She met my eyes and leaned forward. “We were very discrete, you understand, unlike Gertrude and Alice. We’d sit apart at their salons. Flirt with the young men there. Unkempt writers and artists still in their smocks. I told Alice they should cover the furniture so it didn’t soil.” She paused. “Ruffians, those boys. Thought themselves intellectual, but they were quite ordinary.”

“And Odette?”

“Yes, she was sometimes a ruffian too. Liked to pull me down by the hair as she kissed me. I still have a scar where she bit me once.” She lifted her hair and I could see a faint crescent outline on her neck. “Un souvenir d’amour,” she smiled.

“When did you decide you weren’t, uh, attracted to women?”

“Oh, I never did decide. I’ve had lovers all my life—boys, girls, young. Always young.”

“But you married…”

“Of course. One must, to legitimize any whelps that come along. Such a bother, pregnancy, children. I don’t recommend it, Lily.”

“I’ll see if I can avoid it,” I said, thinking I probably shouldn’t tell my mother about this visit.

“Yes, do. And now, I must rest a moment before Odette comes by this afternoon. She will undoubtedly want to ravish me. Be a dear, Lily, and play the Strauss, will you?”

I found an old tape of waltzes and put it into the cassette player on the table next to her chair.

“Lovely. Thank you, Lily. You may go now.”

I walked toward the parking lot wondering who Lily was… François… As I got to my car, I saw a stout older woman in trousers striding up the walk. I hesitated, then couldn’t help calling to her. “Odette?”

She turned her head.

 

– Sarah Russell
First published in Mercurial Stories
Photo source

Ephemera

I sit at the water’s edge,
draw circles in the sand.

It was almost too civil. Last night
we walked down the beach
to the crab shack,
tied bibs around our necks,
and over a bucket of clams and corn
decided who got what.

Circles, short-lived in the tide,
my wedding ring in the dresser drawer.

 

Sarah Russell
First published in  Red Eft Review
Image source

Mornings after breakfast

This poem was just published in Red Eft Review. My thanks to editor Corey D. Cook for taking three of my poems for publication!

Mother hangs her tea bags on the door,
winds the strings around the knob. Drips,
like paw prints, stain the old wood floor.
I don’t know why she does it. She never
uses them again. After her tea she gets
the big pot and scrubs vegetables for soup.
Her knife is rhythmic against the cutting board,
her felt slippers scuffing from counter to stove
and back again. I see her mouth move sometimes
as she sways, mincing, mincing her life.

Sarah Russell
First published in Red Eft Review
Painting by Dmitri Matkovski
For Poetry Pantry

Birdman, Colombian

In response to a challenge at Ekphrastic Review. Here are all the poems generated by this photo of a Colombian Breastplate. Thanks, Lorette, for including my poem with the others!

A golden, first century breastplate —
mythic protection in battle. Mortals
have sought aegis from the gods
since time began, it seems.

When my youngest was three,
he wore an Incredible Hulk T-shirt
every day for a year, certain his kinship
with the angry green goliath
could transmogrify a toddler
to a Titan older kids would fear. 

I hope the Columbian warrior
with a flying deity on his chest
found more success than my guileless,
doomed boy, whose brother and sister
held him down and made him smell
the lint in their belly buttons.

– Sarah Russell
First published in Ekphrastic Review
For Poets United Poetry Pantry
Photo source: Breastplate
Photo source: Hulk Kid

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