In the mirror, mostly, is an indistinct blotchiness
of different- colored nudes, and when I move
there is only the impression of change,
as though some light-colored spots must have
switched places with the darker-colored ones, but it is impossible to tell
which or where.
When I was young, these spots were fewer and more
spread-out, cute in their dispersal over
my nose, my foot-tops, the back of my neck.
When I was 15, surgery caused one of them on my hip
to relocate to a new, slightly more starboard location.
But Fred remained a friendly shape in a familiar
size, findable and knowable.
Now, like me, they are clouds of uncertainty:
irregularly-shaped, growing larger with age,
impossible to control, and louder in the bright sun.
“Note any oddly-shaped discolorations and
consult your doctor at the first concern.”
When two freckles obesely merge, is that normal aging or melanoma?
Will the creams promising to even out my skin tone and calm my rosacea
also scare my freckles into smooth, flesh-toned submission?
At some critical tipping point, will I cease to look like pavement in the early side of a rainstorm?
And when I have reached that moment, will I be
suddenly cleansed by that storm of all my insecurities and ineptitudes?
Will my freckles finally consume me in their rambunctious downpour of self-love and leave me, miraculously, somehow accepting of the growing frame beneath their rebellion,
of the aching shades of neutrality in my heart?
Will they eventually bestow on me their plentiful
wisdom of silence and of change?
~ Amanda Szczesny
like a word-widow cut off
the end of a sentence rather
than take up a whole line
you could say she missed
her period... except it was
so bloody ... trying to save it
the Divine write to life
pleading the belly...put what's in your gut on this paper
and set the world write...
say what you have to say
Woman, let it live
~ Leeanne Seaver
“What will you call her?” a nurse asked.
“Mary.” I said it without hesitation, though Peter and I had not revisited the subject since the night we were chastised for choosing the name “Skye.” Mary was my mother’s mother’s name, the name of the grandmother who’d given me my first diary and taught me how to crochet. Unconsciously I had reached back into my nine-year-old self and pulled out the name for my baby that I had chosen way back then. My mom would be touched.
“Mary, Mary, quite contrary!” chanted the head nurse, aka, Sergeant. I wanted to tell her to shut up and get the hell away from me. After all, she had misdirected the needle for the pudendal block—twice—hitting the nerve itself twice. She was the one who said I looked like a burn victim due to the horrendous stretch marks on my body. But I had no energy to voice my thoughts.
When the medical staff bustled out and the room was ours for a few minutes, Peter sat next to me, holding my hand. I laid there, utterly exhausted, too tired to eat the food dropped off on the tray in front of me. My energy seemed to be ebbing. I’d lost a lot of blood, experienced intense pain for a prolonged period, spent an enormous amount of energy, and I knew instinctively that if I did not get some calories soon, I’d enter dangerous territory.
Staring at the slice of chocolate cake in front of me, I imagined the taste of chocolate, the spongy texture, the creamy frosting. The cake did not move. Neither did my hand. I could not get my hand to move. I continued to stare at the cake. I must eat, I told myself. The words echoed back to the days when I diagnosed myself as anorexic. I looked at my limp hand at my side and back at the cake. There was a fork on the tray. I looked at my hand and willed it to the fork. Made it! I told myself. The cold metal awakened my senses. I looked back at the cake, imagining the taste of chocolate. I looked back at my hand and willed my hand to steer the fork to the cake. Made it again! I cheered myself on as though each movement was the equivalent of running a mile at a sprint. I stared at the cake. I imagined the taste of chocolate. I willed my had to spear a corner of the frosting. Phew. That was tough. My hand rested on the edge of the tray, the fork suspending a blob of frosting on the tine’s tips. I stared at the blob, and imagined the taste of chocolate. Determined to experience sweetness, I exerted every iota of energy into my hand one more time, directing the fork to my mouth.
Clatter. The fork dropped to the tray shattering the quietude.
I settled back into my pillows, too exhausted to manage another bite.
“Mary Livingstone McNelis,” I whispered. I felt like I’d just given a lengthy oration. As a former speech coach myself, this was far from impressive.
“Is that what you want to call her?” Peter asked. He supported all my feminist ideas—and as often, offered his own in this department. We made a good team, we egalitarians.
I thought for a moment.
“No. Mary Leigh McNelis. After your mom’s middle name,” I panted, then closed my eyes and imagined the beauty of curving lines spelling out Leigh. But that was not how his mom spelled her middle name; hers was the simpler version, Lee. I liked the look of the letters “L-e-i-g-h” and how it would feel to pen them in cursive much better, but said, “Mary Lee. L-e-e. Like your mom’s spelling.” Women hardly ever have their daughters named after them although Peter, Sr. and Peter, Jr. and Walter III, Henry VIII were certainly common enough. “Let’s honor your mom.”
With that, I opened my eyes again and eyed the chocolate cake sitting a mile away, at the far edge of the tray. It had to be at least—a yard—a foot away. I just gave birth without medicine, I told myself. I can do anything, and reached for my fork.
~ * ~ * ~ * ~
Even though our mothers had given us grief about our original choice of our baby’s name, “Skye” (Celtic for “teacher”), I knew they were products of their times and what was most important was to continue loving and respecting one another. Besides, a rose is still a rose by any other name, and Mary Lee would still be our Skye, our Teacher.
~by Laura Livingstone-McNelis
Photo is the property of Leeanne Seaver Photographic www.seavercreative.com
Upon the viewing of twenty-something cleavage in a wonder suit
Upon the burning of my Land’s End Tugless Tank
Give and take
Gains and loss
Age and youth
How could I have been so unappreciative
Of my friend estrogen?
Of dear, sweet collagen?
Of limber joints and taut arms?
Or of my children
Living within the picket fences
Their sweaty bodies swooshing through the sprinkler
Their sweet heads shining in the sun
Give and take
Gains and loss
Age and youth
Oh, slippery, slippery time
My face, my body
Tell my unique history
Of joys and disappointments
Of passion and complacency
Highs and lows
Its imperfect rhythm and melody--
~Kathy Oswalt Forsythe
the quiet patience of chinquapin, chokecherry their years in nesting circles...each of black tupelo, mossy oak cup, slippery elm
...none of us remembers except Ailanthus, the tree of heaven, but in my third springtime
I carried a baby blue jay through pilose...climbed a pine and gave her back
to her mother
...all the other years
I carried myself adding layers
of hackberry, hornbeam, catalpa pods opening...closing...marcescent...
count the circles of each new start...
pedicel from a conifer bog... nannyberry hear me
...my quiet noise
what if I lit a match? what if I took an axe? during the sap season the maples dripped
from what was carved there...into my skin...sweet as the fingers
of a little girl...
A Portrait of My Son, The Conqueror
A name I’ve respected since childhood,
The name my husband chose for his own confirmation as a boy.
Together, we claimed it for our son.
Vincent. Conquerer in Latin.
Vincent came into the world with a valiant cry,
Turning nurse’s heads
Interrupting the breathing in the room—
Where is that voice coming from?
I looked to the right—no one was there.
The doctor and my husband then lifted him up
And I saw My Son, the boy we almost named Skye. Teacher in Celtic.
Baby Vincent’s eyes gleamed as
He scurried and scooted after his toddling Sister Mary,
The Teacher of Trains.
Together they stood holding hands on the sidewalk,
Counting the cars click-clacking across the tracks.
Thomas the Tank Engine taught him to trace the parallel lines
Wending their way across the carpet,
To mind the crossing,
To build the bridge.
Later, ladders of Legos
Leaned against castle walls with torches
While dragons spat fire,
Knights shot arrows,
Manned the gate,
Defended the city.
Catapulting into this century,
Cars consumed his attention
Corvettes, Teslas, and yeah,
The Chevy HHR ain’t so bad—
It gets ya places.
“Hey, can I borrow the keys?”
Gummy worms, mini-chocolate donuts
Ah, the world is for the taking!
Ah, yes! The world is out there to conquer!
Last summer, Sam, Justin, Sam, and Vincent
Drove to Colorado
Camping on rocky terrain
Filtering their water
Washing in gas station stops.
“You okay, boy?”
A man asked, thinking my son a runaway—or somethin’.
The Sams, Justin, and Vincent returned home three days early,
Ripe for hot showers, real food, their own beds.
The trip was cut short—but they were victorious.
They’d become The Rocky Mountain Boys.
This summer, Vincent and Elliott, a friend since toddlerhood,
Will drive to the Badlands
See Mount Rushmore
Fill their minds with philosophies
Map out memories
Lasting a lifetime.
My lil’ boy is growing up!
He went off to Williams last fall and
Grows into himself more deeply
Reaching high, heralding possibilities
Eyes on the sky, the stars.
Econ, poli sci, anthro, and philosophy,
Lit, art, and hey, “There’s this cool old mill by the river—”
He likes Nike shirts, khaki shorts, and to run fast.
Ultimate Frisbee—“Check out my new disc!”
And hair gel—“Will you give me a trim, Ma?”
And dances—“There’s this girl, Sarah~”
He likes being taller, bigger, stronger.
He likes playing Catan, chess, and Risk with his friends.
He likes to snuggle with his dogs and
To put his arm around his sister whom he’s dubbed, “Chief.”
He likes to study websites about castles in France with his dad and
To talk quietly in the darkness with his mom.
He likes to write in his journal,
Draw his dreams and
Imagine his life yet to be.
Copyright © 2019 Lake Effect Writing Guild - All Rights Reserved.