Newburyport Adult & Community Education

2017 Writing Contest

Sixth Annual Writing Contest

First Prize: $100 CASH. Work published in our Fall Catalog and Website.

Second Prize: $75 NACE Class Gift Certificate. Work published on Website.

Third Prize: $50 NACE Class Gift Certificate. Work published on Website. [clearboth]

Topic: That Summer I Went…

Our Winners

First Place

My Joyful Trance by Glenn H. Myers I can’t escape the kwoosh kwoosh of the machine pumping me with morphine and I wish they would just shut it off so I can spend my last days—or perhaps hours—in peace. Hell of a way to go. Itchy sheets. Annoying plastic under the itchy sheets. Ticking clock on the wall. Moans emanating from the other rooms. Damn beeps and boops from the nurses’ station. Everyone trying to speak in hushed whispers not realizing their muted conversations bounce off the walls. As if we don’t already know we are going to die. The buzzing of the fly that’s been in my room for ten minutes may be the final nail in my soon-to-be-inhabited coffin. I hate flies. Their buzz buzz buzz goes right through me. And don’t get me started on the diseases they spread. I never eat anything at a picnic or barbecue. No way. No how. Well, not that it matters any more. This incessant insect with wings reminds me of that summer I went to the Cape and those pernicious green heads were everywhere, taking chunks of my flesh; no different, I suppose, from the wingless carcinoma gnawing on my innards. The one item of solace in this morbid dungeon of a room is the painting directly across from me; its rich colors give spirit to the otherwise bleakness of the walls, air, and my inner being. I stare at the canvas, wondering what the artist was thinking when she painted it. Was she happy? In pain? Young? Old? Hopeful? I have a brief moment of joy as I bathe in the beauty of the landscape, as it reminds me of my youth. The buzzing of the fly’s wings breaks me from my joyful trance. The winged insect lands on the armrest of my bed. I may be old and weak but I don’t miss a beat. This may be my final contribution to society. I lift up my arm, the tubes and cords embedded in my epidermis moving in synch. I drop my arm and whack the fly with my hand. He—and it’s definitely a he, because it’s so annoying—flies through the air and lands on my stomach. Dead. Like I’ll be soon. I turn my attention back to the painting and smile. THE END

Second Place

American Bison by Chris Disario In the summer of 2014 my life was in a state of extreme upheaval. I was homeless, alone and unemployed. I’d decided to road trip to all the old west landmarks I’d always wanted to see. One week into the trip, while driving away from Mount Rushmore, unhappiness set in. I wasn’t feeling the romance of the road or the excitement of the western experience. Two miles later I saw a herd of bison grazing in a shallow valley beside highway. I swung my car onto the shoulder and parked. Without thought, I headed into the valley directly toward the huge animal closest to me. I stepped confidently to him. He regarded me, rattled his head and seemed accept my company. It was then, standing beside a wild bison, hearing the cars behind me hiss across endless miles of ancient pavement that I learned something about myself; reading situations well wasn’t really my thing. The bison grunted. It was a primal noise that rumbled up and out of his head like thunder. I reached out to touch him, to calm him, and his shiny black eye flashed in surprise. I spoke to him softly in honey tones- I told him how handsome he was, how strong. How honored I was to share space with his family. I told him about my layoff, my divorce and how I was moving back home, which was the last thing I thought I’d be doing at forty. I was lost, caught up in the melancholy thoughts of a life in flux when the animal suddenly pivoted so that I was no longer beside him, I was in front of him. I’d never been in that situation, but I knew undeniably that he was going to charge and there was a good chance that I was going to die. He revved forward, hitting me in the chest then pulling back, testing my mettle. I responded by grabbing both horns and hoping the ground would allow me to slide. The bison took off. I held on, clutching so tight that I could feel the rush of his breath against me. The smell of earth and wet wool punched into my nose. All the weight I’d ever carried shed off me then. I was alone, locked to a charging bison. Everything else was trivial. All that was important was living in that moment. Breathing in that moment. After twenty-five feet, I swung myself left while pushing hard against the side of the animal’s head. I was free. I hit the ground hard just in time to watch him hurtle away. The herd, aware of the commotion instinctively moved deeper into the valley. The big male trotted out to join them, jerking his tail from side to side. I watched until the landscape swallowed them and they were gone. Back in my car I sat quietly for a moment, taking stock of my life. Then I smiled, pulled onto the highway and continued heading east.

Third Place:

The Falcon’s Choice by Tina Morris Dawn was invisible as I headed out in the old rattling Scout that June. When I reached the clearing, the rustling in the backseat told me that we had arrived, for my senses couldn’t compare to those of the bird or dogs. Parking at the pasture’s edge, I took a few minutes to savor the day’s beginning, but the dogs’ growing impatience curtailed my musings. I acquiesced and reached for the glove and the Tupperware container of chicken. All that was left was Tempest. Her agitation was that of a runner readying for the blocks, a Derby contender moving into the starting gate. She lifted her feet alternately on the perch, marching to an inner cadence. As she rocked, banging her wings against the sides of the crate, her mewling was barely audible. She knew what was coming. I opened the box and grabbed the leather jesses dangling from her legs. She obliged by hopping onto my glove, an expert at the drill, and we moved together to the head of the field. The dogs were busy poking their noses into the long grass, sniffing out every mole and vole in their wake. My whistle brought them in, and they readied for instructions. On command, the setters inched forward, tails straight, eyes scouring the edges for movement. I removed Tempest’s hood so she could watch for her signal. There was a slight swaying of the goldenrod to the left, and the dogs stood stock still, fur raised, alerting me that it was time. As they lunged forward, I released the falcon, who flew straight up with barely a wing beat until she was perfectly positioned, her high-pitched cry piercing the air. Then came the dive towards her oblivious quarry, for the element of surprise, even more than her speed, was her ally. She hit the flushed pheasant with the full force of her body, knocking it to the ground, plunging her beak in for the kill. I whistled, a sharp directive, and her decision was at hand – an easy meal of chicken and security back in my hand, or the tough task of tearing apart her prey while knowing she must always search for more. She hesitated, and I wondered if this would be when she chose her freedom over me. When her eyes met mine, I knew she had made her decision. The cry came again as she flew back, softer now, and no longer fueled by adrenaline. As I offered her bits of raw flesh – her just reward — the setters awaited further command. I wasn’t sure then which animal I would rather be: a dog, loyal to a fault, or a falcon living between worlds of wildness and tractability. Tempest had been allowed to choose, but now must live tethered to a perch. Her freedom was temporary, an ephemeral glimpse of what lay beyond. I felt haunted knowing that someday, if given the choice, I might, unlike the bird, not choose wisely.

Honorable Mention:

Southern Breeze by Marianne Curcio For the first time in my adult life I felt comfortable enough taking my car on a long road trip. The vehicle was used Toyota Corolla with low miles that I had purchased the winter before. It was the nicest car I had ever owned. The trip would be from our home on Plum Island, Massachusetts to Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina. My daughter was twelve, I was thirty-five and the distance we would travel would take us 841 miles down the east coast in mid-July. I felt a new confidence, in this reliable car of mine and my ability to navigate through different states and situations. I had navigated the past 10 years as a single parent driving less than desirable vehicles to school and work and endless doctors appointments. So many miles clocked on bald tires and tired engines to places of obligation and redundancy. This trip signified a new season of our lives as we were driving for recreation and by choice. Our only agenda was to chase the lore of the all American summer road trip. Somewhere between Jersey and Baltimore I began to feel the fatigue of driving and the weight of being the only adult at the wheel so far away from home. By Virginia, we were 10 hours deep and decided to stop at a motel for the night rather than try to finish the 13 hours trip in one day. On the road again the next morning, we drove smack into a Carolina thunderstorm as we crossed the state line. The rain shook our little car and blurred the windshield dwarfing the efforts of the wipers on their highest speed setting. “Were there storms like this when you lived here, mom?” my daughter asked nervously. “I don’t remember – I was a baby when my family left to move up North.” Her question prompted me to ponder my desire to bring my only child to the state of my birth. I suppose I felt compelled to go back to where I came from before moving forward as I sensed the trajectory of our lives was on the cusp of remarkable shift. The next summer, I would be married and the identity of “pair” that my daughter and I had shared for so long would change. Neither of us suspected that in less than two years time there would be a new son, a baby brother that would again re-shape our mother and daughter dynamic. This trip, this culmination of all things summer, was a grand farewell to the difficult, albeit glorious, years we had spent growing up together. We spent full days in the warm ocean of a decidedly not New England beach, driving down the Carolina coast with wet hair and salty eyes only after the sun had set over the ocean and the lifeguards had long left their post. We screamed at the site of roaches in the motel as we ran from them into the parking lot like the Yankees we were. As country music dominated the airwaves we listened and sang along giving it the chance we never knew it deserved. “Even with the windows down, can’t catch a southern breeze here” we belted along with the radio pretending that we lived and belonged to this place, to this moment. Three summers later and I barely get two words from her as she comes and goes through the patio screen door, baby on my hip. The Carolina Corolla still sits in my driveway, nicest car I ever had.