Newburyport Adult & Community Education

2020 Summer Writing Contest

Poetry

1ST PLACE:

Finding My Mother by Ruth Herman

I know exactly what it’s like to be with her
I would have said 6 months ago
before reality crashed

now, in real time, I watch her in the morning
as she gets ready for the day
how the 96 year old muscle in her arm looks
as she bends forward in her chair each morning
to brush her silver hair
over and over again

to see the effort it takes
for her to reach beyond her pain
to put her socks on, just so
to peek in her room and observe
that, after she is dressed
she walks to the picture window
and touches her mother’s picture,
then turns, and walks to her father’s photo,
the one where he is walking the dog
and she touches him, too

then, finally, she crosses her room,
coming to the last photo taken of my father
gone 40 years this month
her hand softly brushes his cheek
her whispered words too soft for me to understand
I blush and look away
this moment that is theirs

she comes out of her room
and I watch from around the corner
she walks with her cane
to the little wooden day timer
she must lean on the chair while she
rolls the tiny handle,
Tuesday becomes Wednesday
she moves the next tiny knob
eleven becomes twelve

I am suddenly there
we walk to the kitchen together
where she makes her coffee
she counts each measurement out loud
and stirs with the same silver spoon
and the same clay coffee pot
she has used for 35 years
when she is done
I carry the pot, she walks slowly with me

not so long ago
I would have told you
I know what it is like for her
the long days that I am gone each day

but I didn’t
how she spends an hour
bent over and with great effort
to write a letter to someone she thinks needs cheering
how she forces herself to draw a flower
when fears and sadness seem too close
how she pets the old dog
and tells her to stay strong
because they have so much
to look forward to

I would have told you
my mother lives with us
and I know exactly what it’s like to be with her

my mother lives here
and I live
with
my mother

and the virus has given me the chance
to lift the veil of what I thought I knew
and see my mother in the light
a silver light

allowing me to see her
for the first time
one last time

Poetry

2ND PLACE:

Haiku (Untitled) by Sarah Brukilacchio

Pandemic outside!

A panicked planet trembles.

Local leaders rise.

Poetry

3RD PLACE:

And All the Land Grew Silent by Laura Distarce

And all the land grew silent and calm and still.
And the sound of the Universe could be heard.
And it was the sound of LOVE.
And it resonated one heartbeat to another:
You’ve got me, I’ve got you.
March 30, 2020

Today I am a citizen of the world
I wrap my arms around the Earth our Mother
and hold her in Infinite Love and Light
to heal
And all the living beings were in agreement
and they healed too.
April 1, 2020

We too have a song that harmonizes with the sound of the Universe
the sound of Love
exquisite in its perfection
Listen……
April 19, 2020

And through the cracks of despair
come shoots of hope, of faith, of unity
scattered across the Land on the winds of change
And to each a silent prayer: grow
May 31, 2020

Short Story

1ST PLACE:

Finding Time by Liam Wilbur

Until recently, Tom had never been one for standing around. Like many of his friends and coworkers, Tom held that unproductivity was equal to counter-productivity. If he was being brutally honest (which he often was), it bothered him to see folks lounging in parks or daydreaming by the waterfront. Tom was a man who liked to have a goal. To his mind, those floating goal-less through life were deeply misled.

Here he stood, going well into minute six of doing nothing other than standing on his front lawn (immaculately manicured, thank you). He’d walked out of his house that morning with a clear goal: Retrieve the paper by 8:15, finish his coffee by 8:45, and be ready for his first Zoom meeting by 8:55 sharp. Tom was a man who thrived within routine, and the preceding three months in quarantine had become routine indeed. Twice this week he had broken his pattern. It chafed him that this would be the third.

Tom’s annoyance faded as he took in a deep breath. Aimlessly and to no-one he wondered, “That air though… did it always smell so good?” Summer was well along its arc and the sun was gathering strength, bathing dewy grass in warm light. A delicate breeze tousled Tom’s salt and pepper hair, carrying with it the last perfumes of night; earth, pollen, a whiff of lilac, and the smoky bite of an extinguished fire-pit. Tom found it intoxicating. Tom never found ANYTHING intoxicating.

Two songbirds in neighboring trees held discourse about their mating prospects. Several streets down, a dog reminded its owners that breakfast was due. Decadently puffed clouds crept unhurried along the sky. Tom realized he was staring at them open-mouthed and considered for a moment what Deb and Charles next-door would think if they saw him. Tom was unconcerned. Recently he found he

didn’t put much stock in the neighbor’s opinions. As a matter of fact, Deb and Charles did see him through their living room window and concluded that drugs were most likely involved.

An arm wound its way around his, the familiar smell of his wife’s conditioner mingling pleasantly with the summer scents. Angie was standing next to him, also gazing up at the sky. She wore a coy smile and glowed in the light.

“Been out here long honey?” Her tone was playful, and sounded in that moment as delicate as the songbirds.

Tom glanced down at his wrist to see how much time this reverie had cost him, and discovered he was without his beloved Rolex Datejust. Tom then did something unusual: he shrugged. Tom was not a shrugger; he believed that shoulders were for presenting good posture and swinging tennis rackets. Tom hadn’t had to do much of either recently. He conceded that on a morning like this, where the simple elegance of summer had rooted him to the lawn, the best he could do was shrug his shoulders and not take any of it for granted.

Short Story

2ND PLACE:

BUBELAH by C. Russell

In March I ask my Russian grandma if she’s going to wear a mask when she takes her walk, now that the official word is it’s most likely a good idea. As she does her pre-exercise exercises up against the front door, I show her the one I’ve made for her.

“When unihorns fly,” she says.

I think she means when pigs fly.

“Bubbe,” I say. “They’re not unihorns. They’re unicorns. With a cee.”

“What are you saying?” Her voice goes up a skeptical half-octave. “What, like a single bunion?”

She’s got a point. Just like a unihorn, I think, and I circle back to my original query.

“Bubbe. Don’t do it for them. Do it for me.”

“And by ‘them’ you mean those lying meatballs in the White House? I should listen to that fetus?”

Okay, so here she’s lost me. “Fetus?”

“That young one, the boy that married the daughter. His face is still unfinished, needing more time to cook, no? And he’s as bad as the rest. An Orthodox Jew. It’s a shanda,” she says, using the Yiddish word that translates roughly into a “family shame.”

“You’re not wrong,” I say. “But this mask thing. It’s important.”

“Feh,” says my grandmother.

And I have a genius idea. “Well, your call. The president won’t wear one either, too scientific for him.”

Game and match. Bubbe knows it, too, and gives me her patented death ray stare before snatching the homemade mask out of my hand.

“What is this,” she says, holding it at arm’s length.

I demonstrate how to use it on my own face and give it back to her.

“What WAS it?” she asks.

“It used to be underwear. Now it’s a mask.”

She dangles the fabric in front of my face. “You call this underwear? This schmatta is a piece of nothing!”

“It’s a thong,” I say. I know we’ll get there eventually. Might as well give her the satisfaction now.

Bubbe inhales as if to speak, then swallows the breath with an audible gulp. She arranges the thing expertly over her mouth and nose.

“Clever,” she says, and sweeps out the door.

Short Story

3RD PLACE:

An Endangered Species by Fran Hall

They were old men and old friends. Marv was a widower. Ed had been divorced for years. The pair had been through the war together. Now they were in a new war, , a virus war.

“How you gettin’ groceries,” Marv asked?

“Same’s as I always do, I go myself. I do everythin’ myself.”

“ My kids don’t want me goin’ to the store. At our age, that’s not such a great idea.”

Ed balked. “So who’s gonna go?”

“My kids said they’d go. The grandkids has stepped up, too. I make a list and give ‘em my credit card. They go and don’t even need a signature. Just the chip, I guess. And then

they bring it in, bags and all. Sometimes I tip the grandkids. Oh, they love that.”

Ed soaked in the image of someone else carrying his groceries for him. “

I’m tired of being alone and all. No one to talk to. Just the TV . “Times like this I miss havin’ a woman.”

“Well you had one and you got rid of her, but I know what you mean. I miss my wife every day. She was something special. Just radiated love.”

“Yes, she did,” Ed agreed, then shifted gears. “So, tell me more about the kids.”

Marv laughed and thought about the first time they went shopping for him. “I gave’ em a list and I wrote 2 Russet potatoes. You know, those big brown ones that they use for baking? Well, would you believe that the kids came home with two bags of them suckers. ‘I thought you wanted two bags’ my grandson said.” Ed chuckled.

“Then there was the time when I told the kid I wanted two tomatoes “on the vine” and I wound up with nine big whoppers. He didn’t get two tomatoes, he brung me two clusters —you know, those huge ones that come growing together.

“So, yer getting’ more than groceries. Sounds like they got you laughing a lot.

“Oh, my kids got me doing a lot of thing these days. They didn’t used to look after me like this. I guess they was just too busy, with school and sports and jobs and dogs, and keepin’ up that big house and all. But now it’s different. Everybody’s slowed down. Everybody’s home. They have time for grandpa. I swear, they hover over me now like a fleet of drones, keepin’ tabs on everythin’ I need and everythin’ I do. Now that the virus is here maybe they finally figured out that I might not be around forever.”

“Sounds like they are treating you like an endangered species,” Ed said quietly.

“Yeah, “an endangered species.”

“How’s it feel?”

Marv thought for a while and then he replied, realizing something for the first time.

“It feels like love again.”

Essay

1ST PLACE:

Quarantine Snow Day by Graham Steffens

Look. The snowboarding has never been better than now. Yes, it’s August in Washington, DC and yes, you’re sheltering at home. But that’s exactly what makes it so good: you wouldn’t be snowboarding if you weren’t quarantined in the dead of summer. If you were preparing another slide deck or packed into the backseat and headed for a bar, you wouldn’t be sitting here in your backyard, a tuft of patchy five-by-five grass, with your old board strapped to your feet, hopping up onto a flakey wooden bench like it’s a box and practicing 180s off your foam roller.

You just wouldn’t.

You’d be at brunch with your friends. You’d be traveling. You’d be on your grind. You’d be going. You’d be doing.

But instead, you’re on your board, here, in this patch of grass. On this warm and cloudless day.

And how lucky that is. And how lucky that you can tense and coil your spine as you drop forward. That your knees can bend and your calves lean as you push down and lift off, rotating, just high enough to bring the board out of the snow and around to press onto the top of the metal rail, where you balance suspended. How lucky that the weather will hold just long enough to make this one of those bluebird days on the mountain, the kind you’ll look back on in 10 years and smile and mutter to yourself, “Now that was real riding.”

Feel the snow, cold and soft, landing on the back of your exposed hand. Can you feel it? See your breath pouring out pale and whipped away by the wind. Can you see it? You won’t be able to see it every day. And that’s ok. But please believe me when I tell you that you’ll never see it on the commute to your office.

Balance your weight on your back foot. Lift your front–still locked into your boot, locked into the board–out of the grass. Feel the fiberglass stiffen, then relax. Bend your front leg up ninety degrees and grab the board’s nose with your hand. Hold here, in the air. Balanced on your rear foot. You get to hold here. In this Yard. On this Mountain. During this Quarantine.

You can finally hold here.

Try to see that you always could.

Essay

2ND PLACE:

Be Still by Kiki Chase

Locked up tight in a house by the sea, the world around us screeching to a halt. The rush of mounting momentum interrupted, now reduced to sending out wishes by the stars of night. Holding fast, trusting the tides and the timing of life.

Be still, said the earth.

The thoughts of you, small at first, undefined and fluid, guiding our unconscious mind. Now tangible, but just out of reach. Your silhouette defining our decision, to risk our love and release our walls, with confidence and ease. This path, however, is an uncertain journey requiring steadfast commitment to navigate the winding twists and turns. The contour of your being playing hide and seek with our hopes and our hearts. Time passing, days, weeks, months, years, our confidence waning. The seasons of patience, perseverance, and trust in this choice, come and go, it is only natural.

This was meant to be.

The ground begins to thaw, and new light shimmers on the horizon. With a letter of approval, it is finally our time. Freed fingertips fluttering, calling out to a vast sea of faces, and searching the shorelines. Rising with the sun, renewed hope rooting deep down in our souls.

Be still, said the earth.

Trusting the moon to keep the tides right, the push and pull setting the gears in motion. Their sweet faces mirror images of one another, their painful past a shared bond, but their resilience ever present. We are in uncharted waters. The shoreline coming into focus, a match beyond our wildest dreams in a world beyond our wildest imagination. The stars aligned.

This was meant to be.

Windows open, curtains billowing in the salty breeze, their gentle breathe peaceful as they sleep. With arms wide open, in our house by the sea, they are happy and healthy. Our sun and our moon. Our silver lining.

Be still, said the earth.

This was meant to be.

Essay

3RD PLACE:

A Reflection by Donna Franz

Growing up in the country, surrounded by farms, my siblings and I spent summers climbing trees, running in hayfields, swimming in ponds, riding our bikes, picking blueberries that grew under power lines on scraggly ground, inventing games to scare each other, and having plenty of time to complain we were bored. As I got older and worked at summer jobs, then did the things expected of adults – attended college, got married, brought up a family, worked to help put that family through college, and saved for retirement, I would look back on my rural childhood and feel nostalgic to the point of envying that little girl who thought her young life at home was boring. Those so-called boring times looked like such a luxury from my adult perspective.

Now that I’m retired and the pandemic has curtailed trips to restaurants, movies, stores, visits with friends, and more, I’ve recaptured that feeling of being home and restricted – but now I find that I relish the freedom to decide how to use my time within the imposed limitations. Instead of going “out” every day, I’m going “in” to rediscover old skills – and using those old skills has brought back many memories.

One of my old and neglected skills is sewing. My mother taught me to sew at an early age when she organized a 4H sewing group for neighborhood girls. It paid off for me as I made clothes throughout high school and then decided I’d make my wedding gown in 1971; I paid a total of $40.00 for the fabric. Mom was a good teacher and stressed quality work; I remember pulling out stitches that didn’t pass muster. Today as I sit at my sturdy White sewing machine, a college graduation gift from my mother, making masks for my family, I reflect on my young self and the many things my mother taught me.

My mom, who recently passed away at 95, was a very capable woman. She could do anything she put her hand to – she loved organic gardening, excelled at cooking, could knit, crochet, braid rugs, sew, keep a clean and organized home that housed seven children, could wallpaper a room so professionally you couldn’t find seams or pattern misalignments, found time to read, and enjoyed playing scrabble late in life. I marvel at all she accomplished and try to model what she held dear: the importance of family and her skill at keeping her children close by maintaining family traditions. So as I make masks to keep my family safe, I take trips to my past and recall all the experiences I had and all the people who positively influenced my life. I am especially warmed by the memories of all the things my mother gave me. My reflective trips to the past are one of the blessings of this quiet time of sheltering at home.

Essay

HONORABLE MENTION:

Pandemic Perks by Jules Means

Lockdown came on fast. One day we were starting to hear more about this

virus and the next our lives changed completely.

My daughter called to tell me that my granddaughter’s dream had come

true. They could sleep late and were going to try homeschooling. To a 5th

grader this sounded great. She had visions of lots of TV, books, iPad, and

texting with pals.

Then the teachers were in touch and Zoom became a thing over night.

I have compassion for those stuck at home with snarling kids yet I am guilty

of loving my solitude. I stay in touch via Zoom meetings.

I let the food run out and then order delivery online. I don’t have to feed

anyone. I stay up late and sleep till I wake up. I never have to stop what I’m

doing to run an errand or pick someone up. We are not allowed to visit the

assisted living place where my mother lives. This means no more endless

trips to doctors’ appointments. She doesn’t seem to mind that fuss either.

One day I folded my laundry and it was all pajamas. The last time I got

dressed up was March 4th. I spend less money. I hardly need to gas up the

car. I don’t go to stores and order cool stuff online. I eat cereal for dinner

hanging over the sink. The last time I went to a store was to Whole Foods on

March 8.

I read and listen to books without interruption. I watch what I want on TV. I

have reorganized my studio and used up most of my stash of materials for

sewing. I have made things with my art supplies. I have sorted out my

paints and gotten back to block printing. I am knitting up a storm making

slippers for everyone I ever met. I am writing a lot.

I am “over 65” and have a few “underlying conditions” so there is no guilt

trip here. I am encouraged to lie low for as long as it takes. I do go out on

walks and sometimes drive around to exercise my little Honda.

I think about meditating, but I’m too busy. I never did get the hang of it

anyway.

I don’t like to work in the kitchen and do miss restaurants and takeouts, but

not enough to actually cook anything.

I accidentally ordered two pounds of flour the other day so I’m thinking of

making bread. I don’t really like bread and besides the occasional morning

toast I can live without it. I saw on You Tube the other day on how to make

flatbread. It looks easy so I might try it. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Cheers from the Old Shoe Factory. Stay vigilant and wear a mask. This can’t

last forever, but so far I don’t mind if it does.

Essay

HONORABLE MENTION:

Silver Lining of Shelter at Home by Brinn Hefron

Do you remember when you couldn’t wait to leave home? When you wanted to move out of your parents house and start your own life? When I was a teenager, I could not wait to leave home. I left for college only a month after graduating high school… only up to New Hampshire, but it still felt like freedom. Apparently not enough freedom though. While still in college I enlisted in the Navy, and shortly after left for Navy bootcamp … what a great adventure it has been.

I had my daughter, Kira, in 2009, where I had six weeks of maternity leave before putting my uniform back on and returning to work. This was the longest period of time I spent with my daughter until last year. Last May, I commissioned as a Surface Warfare Officer and was lucky enough to have the summer at home while I awaited training. When I left Newburyport last August, I thought it was last time I would have extended time with my daughter.

Fast forward to March of 2020: I was in Newport, Rhode Island for Junior Officer of the Deck training when a stop movement order was issued – meaning I would not continue onto my duty station of Rota, Spain. Because I was so close to home, I was able drive to Newburyport to be with my daughter and my aunts and quarantine with them until I was allowed to travel.

The week before I made the two hour drive from Newport, Newburyport schools transitioned, rather abruptly, to remote learning. Kira had an amazing teacher for fifth grade, Mrs. Petrie, who set up a robust learning program just as quickly as she could. For Kira, and consequently me, that meant quite a bit of schoolwork. I learned how to crochet so that while I supervised schoolwork, I could also make a blanket.

These simultaneously long and short days are some of my favorite memories. Without the distractions of the Navy, I was able to get to learn so much about my daughter and my aunts. It’s really incredible how much more you can learn about the people you love when you are stuck inside with them for months on end.

What is happening in our country and around the world is a tragedy, but I feel so incredibly lucky to have had the time I did with my family.

I left Newburyport on July 1 yet again – but without quite as much excitement as I did at 19. I am checking onboard a guided missile destroyer Monday, and the work schedule is a strenuous one, at best. While I await my husband joining me in Spain, after an extended deployment to Iraq, Kira will stay in Newburyport. So, while I am excited to go on this new adventure I will be missing my kiddo. The silver lining is all of the time spent with my family to get me through until I see them again.