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stands for Christ whom Lula sought all her life, she who sat with back as upright as a pew, who recited Bible verses as if she were their author, who in her widowhood went to the auction house

with her tobacco bales, stood with fingers crossed and closed her eyes in long blinks, praying the

same prayer she prayed always: Help me do this, Lord. Help me.



equals the unknown that must be solved for. What then is the meaning of life, of a life, of her

life, her childhood spent not behind a desk or running through fields of flowers but working off

her illegitimacy in a boardinghouse?



marks the spot where she is buried. I Find a Grave, stare at the stone as if I stood again on that

fertile ground, in the dry grass that bristles, in the drench of heat, cicadas so loud you don’t hear

the passing cars or the twitter of birds in pines. Here lies a stop on the journey stretching from

the beginning of humankind to my own life. All of the variables. If she and he hadn’t—at that moment—then the birth of my grandmother—she, married—and my mother—who survived her mother’s uncertainty and was nevertheless taken care of and grew into someone who did want to

be a mother—and if she and my father hadn’t chosen that particular point in time––This

unknown plus that unknown begets another unknown.



is the name of a generation, of my generation. The world labeled us all—in our 20s—apathetic.

They said we were unknowable. Or not worth knowing. One dictionary states bluntly: “typically perceived to be disaffected and directionless.” We were held up against the revered Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomers handed much to fight for and rebel against. We are the grandchildren and children of gold and silver forebears, and we are tin in comparison. 



signifies Death. Crossbones. Arms crossed over breasts. Cartoon characters died with Xs over their eyes, and we laughed. When both parents die, you are no one’s daughter anymore. Your feet

walk on towards destiny, towards the day someone wonders where your soul has gone and what 

your life signified. They will seek to solve for the unknown that was you.



is the letter Lula signed her marriage license with, a shaky, ill-formed X at that as if no one had

ever asked anything of her before. X was the only letter she knew, and, proud or stubborn or

scared, she never asked a soul to teach her the rest, to show her how to put them together so that

she could read on paper the words memorized in her mind, the ones that slipped off her tongue

when she told and retold stories, the ones on the thin, whispery pages of the family Bible she

would hold, heavy, in her lap; words she could have used to write letters across the miles to

where her daughter lived:  Dear Maggie, We are all fine here. It will be time to harvest soon.

How are you and the children? I wish you could see my ferns and flowers. When we pull up in

the yard after church, it looks like the whole porch is blooming. It’s a sight. Write soon. Love,




Although I never heard that my great-grandmother was an unhappy woman, I ache when I think of her going through life without being able to read. I have loved language and books since my mother read to me as a child, and when she lay dying last year, seemingly unaware of what was going on around her, the hospice nurses assured us that she still heard us, and so I read to her—poetry and the first chapters of a novel she had loved as a child. 


There is so much I want to know about the past, about the lives that have led to my own—and so much of it will never be known. As I grow older and as I accept—reluctantly—having lost both my parents in the last four years, my poems have become “visits” with family I never got the chance to know, or knew but perhaps not well enough before they were gone. I visit, both to know them better and to give them voices, imaginary as those voices may be. 


I read poetry as I have read everything in my life—with reckless abandon. Discovery of one poet leads to another. A few of the poets I read to understand craft while also seeking beauty and wisdom are Adrienne Rich, Jane Kenyon, Natasha Tretheway, Michael Longley, and Ted Kooser.


I am fortunate to share my days and nights with a painter. Richard has taught me to see in different ways than ones that come naturally to me. I cherish our talks about creativity—its rewards and frustrations—and how our explorations are different and yet the same. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”

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