Something New

I came to Women Writing for a Change for the first time 5 years ago.  The Solstice Sampler.  A night just like this, cold and dark, and this room alive with candlelight, and the voices of women, and the invisible thing that lurks in the shadows here that calls us all together.  It had been calling me for a while when I accepted Veda’s invitation to the circle.

“I think it’s something you’ll like,” she said simply.

How right she was.  When Beth invited us to write and set that timer, I slumped into a pile in the corner with my notebook and allowed fevered words to pour from my pen.  Words about fire, and a childhood dream that was suddenly relevant again, and about being set free.  How prophetic they were.  Unknown to me at the time, that was the beginning of the end for me.  The end of a kind of habituated self-loathing that I had been unconscious of, that plagued me into sometimes insincerity and frequent self-doubt.  An unconsciousness that lured me into chasing people and things that didn’t fit me very well, and drove me to project my frustration and anger onto them in response.

Little did I know that, as the path lit up in front of me, and the circle in this room drew me deeper into contemplation held safe and sacred in these conscious practices, riveted together by rituals, little did I know that I was indeed on the brink of freeing myself from the pain of the inauthenticity that had become second nature to me.  Page by raw page, I wrote myself free, slowly but surely coming home to an awareness of my own goodness.  As I became more and more willing to extend goodwill to my sisters in the circle, I became more willing to extend it to others in the world, and finally, even to my own sweet self.  As I became more able to listen deeply to the words of the women sitting beside me, I became more able to listen to others in the world, and yes, even to myself.  To say that this has been transformative sounds trite.  It would be better if I could show you how easily I smile these days and how light my heart feels in the absence of longing.  Longing for what?  For something to fill me, to hold me, to make me feel less alone.  The gift of this community of courageous writers helped to relieve my longing, not by filling that space, no.  But by leading me to the awareness that I fill that space.  I am that space, or rather, it is me.  And life holds me.  Of course it does, as it holds all of us, as it holds the roots of trees, even as they burn.  And in burning, become something else, something new.

DRH for The Poplar Grove Muse


Tis the weekend before Xmas and all through the house
Ginger barks at the door, Turtle chases a mouse
Chuck hides in the loft afraid to come forth
cause he’s on my shit list cause he shat on the floor
and the rug in the bathroom and the rug by the door
and he pissed where he shat and he wants to some more

There is snow on the ground and there’s cold in the air
so Chuck has decided to piss every which where
Denise lies a’resting with hands behind head
hoping her nausea gets lost on a sled
sailing down yonder hillside to valley below
so she can eat garlic and play in the snow

Sean is sitting with family beside Nina’s bed
quietly reading a book he just read
waiting for Nina to rest from her pain
waiting for life to be happy again

Dietrich and Cara have left in the Trooper
to retrieve all the stuff from their car, now a blooper
crushed in the front and crushed in the side
from an Oldsmobile head-on collision last night
Twasn’t their fault and they weren’t hurt too badly
but their Christmas spirit is now sagging quite sadly

Bill is stretched out in the chair by the window
working crossword puzzles and hanging in limbo
“Look at the woodpecker! Look at the dogs!
“Will you bring me some coffee? Will you find me some togs?
“Would you wash ‘tween my toes? Would you please scratch my back?
“Would you fix me some supper?  Would you bring me a snack?”
He’s so mad at himself as on crutches he’s hopping
(I think he just wants to skip Christmas shopping)

Kevin slides around on brakes that don’t work
his grandma just died and his job has no perks
his sweetie is spending the holidays out west
his sons have blue hair and tattoos on their chests

Me? How am I? Mid this season so blest?
Mid this season that sounds like such a damn mess?
I’m thankful for family, for friends, for bean soup
and at least all my children aren’t dying of croup
I’m glad for my teeth and I’m glad for my hair
(I wish Bill still had his but his head’s getting bare)
I’m glad for my Trooper that goes in the snow
I’m glad that a reindeer didn’t step on my toe.
I’m glad for my paycheck even though it’s too small
it’s better than not any paycheck at all

I have presents to wrap and chickens to feed
a daughter to hold when she faints to her knees
(because of that youngun within her, so tiny
so full of new hope, all bright and sunshiney)
A son and his honey to hug cause they’re here
(maybe son will start wearing his seatbelt this year)
A son-in-law to pray for while he sits with his mother
while he waits with his dad
while he waits with his brothers
A husband to love, to pamper, to tease
to bake him some cookies, to check him for fleas

Life can be funny and life can be sad
luck can be good and luck can be bad
and so mid this season of good, bad, and ugly
I sit by my fire and smile rather smugly
The waterline’s not frozen, I have dishes to do
my cat’s not an elephant, Bill’s not broke in two
so I lift up my voice and sing out with delight
“Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”

Glenda Breeden for The Poplar Grove Muse





Trash or Treasure?

One Sunday, in order to avoid sitting down to write, I spent a couple of hours going through an old, beat-up file box. The items were not organized but were just stacked on one another in this box that was filled to the top. I could almost see me putting those items in the box with the intention to organize it -someday . I had no idea what I would find in there. It reminded me “Storage Wars”, a reality show where they auction an abandoned storage unit to the highest bidder. Sometimes there is trash in the units and sometimes there is treasure.

I approached the contents slowly, lovingly actually. I picked up the folded yellow legal pad of paper, which, if possible, was even more yellow than it had been in its original state. There were about 13 names on the sheet, neatly printed. This paper held names, long forgotten, complete with addresses and phone numbers of the women who lived on my floor in the dorm in 1975 when I returned to IU after a 2 ½ year hiatus. Memories of that year flooded back to me.

The next item in the box was a folder marked “personal” which contained poems that I had written in high school. Some of them were handwritten but most were typed on a typewriter on parchment paper. The darkness of the poetry stunned me. I sipped on my coffee as I digested these words that came from a place I was unable to identify. I was 13 years old when I wrote them. Was it my penchant for drama or did they come from reality?  I set them aside.

Torn out pages of an old journal were next. Naïve, twenty-two year old me, back in college, writing of longing to belong, lost keys at registration, and the dreams I had for this re-start. A newsletter I had created that year was stuffed vertically beside all of the other items. I was the governor of the dormitory floor and the newsletter looked so lame at first glance.  I hadn’t even typed it. The contents of the newsletter, however, were illuminating. Along with articles about happenings around the dorm there was an announcement of an all floor meeting I had planned with a guest speaker from the Political Science Department. The topic she would be speaking about was “The Role of Women in the Workplace”. Hmmm.

Below the newsletter was a stack of folded letters on lined note paper. I knew instantly what they were. When I lived in New York City my grandmother wrote me at least once or twice a month and I kept all these letters. The letters were very “newsy” and grandma didn’t waste one square inch of the paper, even writing vertically on the page and filling all of the white space. She kept me up to date on the activities of my family who were clearly grieving about my absence. I was so excited to be on my adventure that I wasn’t sensitive to their feelings.

The next letter I found was from my first born nephew who is in his 40’s now. He and I have always been close.

“Dear Aunt Sherri, I wish you could come out here. I miss you. My parents and I went to New Jersey to the Academy and I hope I get in (I said get in because I’m not sure if it is accepted or excepted and I still don’t know). Jeff and I went to a girl’s house and her parents didn’t know. I asked her if she wanted to go with me and she said yes but she broke up with me and is going with Jeff. I hate his guts. I have to go. This is the longest letter I have ever written! No, actually, this is the only letter I have ever written. I love you!”

I still smile about this.

There was one last worn out folder at the bottom of the box which, from its size, I assumed it contained old tax returns. It wasn’t tax returns. The first item in the folder held a detailed outline of a stage play I had written. I lived in New York at the time and took writing classes at NYU. I had thought that I had lost the folder when my apartment flooded after I moved back to Indiana, but here it was, in my lap, the last item in an old box. Under the stage play was an outline for a novel, complete with character sketches and several chapters of the manuscript written by hand. As I read the detailed sketch of the main character, Amanda, I was stunned to see that I had given her the birthdate of January 9th. Eight years after I had penned this, in 1990, I gave birth to my son on that very date. I still get chills when I think of it. I get nauseous when I think about all of the time I have wasted by not writing. The saddest thing is, that I didn’t believe  that I could or should try to be a writer.

As I placed everything back in the box, I was aware of the treasures this box held. My steps to avoid writing led me back to my writing and to myself. The message was clear.

Time is wasting, keep your hand moving.

Sherri Walker for the Poplar Grove Muse

Waldorf Salad






Waldorf Salad


It’s just a simple cake.

Any fool can make it

except your aunt, I

gave her the recipe

but she never got it right.

From My Mother Gives me her recipe, by Marge Piercy

 There is a Fawlty Towers episode in which an American guest orders a Waldorf Salad in the hotel dining room, but Basil had no idea what a Waldorf Salad is. And I thought, my dad could tell you how to make one because he made the best Waldorf Salad I ever tasted. He was a good cook who could make many delicious dishes, but that salad was my favorite.

I almost enjoyed watching him make it a much as I enjoyed eating it. Dad was six feet tall and had very distinctive hands with long yet thick fingers, not made for dexterity. He did everything precisely. So watching him dice each apple into uniform pieces was like watching a meticulous surgeon at work. I was in awe. The walnuts were always halved, then quartered, not minced. He didn’t want them to lose their crunch, the same with the celery. He chopped the stalks with a rapid-fire motion. Next came the grapes, each purple grape sliced precisely in half through its shiny skin. I believe if those halves could have been measured, they would have been exactly the same size, not even a millimeter off. Which is pretty amazing for a guy with a glass eye and no depth perception. He mixed it all together with Hellman’s mayonnaise. It was a delicious work of art. When I got married the second time I had him make Waldorf Salad for the wedding. And honestly, I was more excited about the salad than the marriage. That should have been a clue about the probable success of that relationship.

I remember lolling about on the couch as a child watching him put the finishing touches on our Christmas tree. It was his job to hang the tinsel, which in those days were made of foil and tore easily when you tried to take them off their cardboard spindle. Dad bit his nails, so watching him try to separate each strand was torture, but he never lost his cool. Each icicle had to be hung evenly, again, surgical precision. It took a long time, but I loved watching him do it. He was focused yet serene. As an adult I think of him trimming the tree and know the true meaning of a labor of love.

Rebekah Spivey for The Poplar Grove Muse