MUSTERING OUT When the war ended, we were ready to go home. We heard about troop ships delayed, being prepared, but anything that could float was fine with us. We slept on the decks, didn’t have much food, but that was nothing new. I lost almost sixty pounds in those years in Australia, Manila, New Guinea. Not much chow. Dengue fever. I almost died. No, we’d have jumped in and swam if we could. I’ll never forget our first sight of the Golden Gate. Everybody was out on deck, crying and cheering, hundreds of people waving back at us. Mustering out in San Francisco took forever. Paperwork, medical exams, giving up our uniforms for fear they carried diseases. They probably did. They invited us to stay for a talk about the Army reserves. Hell no, our CO told the guy. He turned to us: “Do you want to get out of this man’s army?” “Sir, yes sir!” we shouted back. I got a ride from a Mexican guy down to San Jose. His family had come to pick him up. We got to the ranch near midnight. I rang the bell, got everybody out of bed, surprised my mom and dad. We were all crying, couldn’t believe I’d made it home. My brother was six feet tall with this big deep voice. Yeah, it was something. I kept looking around. It was all the same, but different, you know? No, I’ll never forget that day. None of us will. --Sue Fagalde Lick Previously published in Rattle Poetry Journal
Happy new Year! That greeting falls a little flat this week in view of events in the Middle East and the wildfires in Australia. The parties are over, and the weather is wet, windy and dark. Bleh, right? What’s left to look forward to?
I have something: a new book! The Widow at the Piano is another poetry chapbook, following fast on the heels of Gravel Road Ahead, which came out in October. The two are quite different. Gravel Road Ahead follows my Alzheimer’s journey with my late husband. Readers say they have found it comforting and inspiring.
The Widow at the Piano, subtitled Confessions of a Distracted Catholic, is bound to get me in trouble, although early readers have pronounced it smart, sassy, touching and funny. You see, it’s about being Catholic and playing the piano at church. Any time you get into politics, money or religion, folks are bound to get their dander up, and I’m expecting there will be those who don’t love this book.
That scares me, but I don’t think I have ever published anything that is so “me.” In my years in journalism, we could hide behind our allegedly impartial reporting. In my novels, I could say, “That’s not me.” This book is absolutely me, and I’m bound to take criticism personally. Oh well, that’s what happens when you’re a writer.
I know I’m not a perfect Catholic. This book lays it out there for the world to see, how sometimes when I pray, I wonder if anyone is listening; how sometimes when I look like I’m praying, I’m analyzing the flower arrangements or wondering what the priest is wearing under his vestments; how sometimes I’m thinking about what I’m going to have for lunch when I’m supposed to be thinking about the body and blood of Christ. Distracted! That woman at the piano is the same woman who goes into the kitchen to put the kettle on for tea, finds three other things to do and returns to her desk fifteen minutes later without having started the tea.
And yet, it’s a love story, too. God knows, I love doing music at church. As a widow coming to Mass alone, it gives me a place among all those couples and families. The liturgy is magic, and so is the music. I don’t work anymore at the church I wrote about. I’m at another church playing and singing for free and loving it. I’m considerably less distracted. But one of the virtues of the Catholic Church is that the Mass is the same all over the world, so in a way it doesn’t matter which specific parish I’m writing about.
The Widow at the Piano is available for discounted pre-orders now and is scheduled for publication on March 15. If I were you, I’d order a copy just for the gorgeous cover publisher Shawn Aveningo-Sanders of The Poetry Box has selected. It’s piano porn for those of us who love images of musical instruments.
I will be looking for opportunities to do readings and talks as much as possible in the coming months for both the Widow book and Gravel Road Ahead. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re interested. I will be at the Author’s Fair being held next Saturday, Jan. 11 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Newport Public Library.
I started writing poetry as a little girl. I remember carrying around a little spiral notebook that fit in my pocket, writing sing-songy rhymes with a fat pencil with a big eraser. My skills have matured a little since then. Although I have published poetry in various journals and won some prizes, it has taken 60 years for my poems to appear in book form. Suddenly I have two poetry books within six months. So exciting.
I was sitting by my father’s hospital bed when I got the email that Finishing Line Press wanted to publish Gravel Road Ahead. “Dad, they want to publish my book,” I said, my head spinning a little with shock and surprise. Very ill and not a literary guy, he probably said something like “Good” and changed the subject, but it was a big deal for me. Dad is gone now, but I am grateful that in a year of tremendous loss, God sent me these two gifts.
And now I offer them to you. Here’s a teaser from The Widow at the Piano:
IF JESUS CAME TO MY DOOR
I’d say, “Excuse the mess” He would. He might even share the couch with the pit bull and rub her balding belly as she lies on her back, submissive, which I probably ought to do, too, but no, I’d be fixing my hair, putting my laundry away, offering Him coffee or tea, and wondering if He was really He or if I just let a bad guy in, someone who would rape, rob, kill or whip out a Kirby vacuum to sell. But no, the guard dog’s upside down, wide open to His blessed hands, and she knows. She knows.
As we pray for peace and safety, I hope my words can offer some comfort or at least a few minutes of distraction. Just don’t forget the tea kettle.
In last week’s post, I talked about how I became a poet, and I told you about my first poetry chapbook, coming out later this year. This week, “pre-sales” for Gravel Road Ahead begin. Some of you will be receiving postcards in the mail very soon.
I have just gotten my first look at a mockup of the cover photo which will appear on the postcards. It may change a little in the final version, but it’s one more step forward. Thank God I don’t hate it. That’s my photo of one of the places Annie and I go walking. Before Annie, I walked it with Fred and Sadie. The gravel road is hard on shoes and the feet inside them, but worth it for where it takes you.
You’d think once you write the book and get it accepted, you could celebrate with a glass of champagne and relax. Nope. Now it’s time to promote and sell the book. Pre-publication sales are critical. In order to guarantee a full press run, I need to sell 55 copies in advance. I’m hoping my friends will help with this. The price, $14.99, seems a little steep, but if you think about it as paying 50 cents a poem, it’s not bad.
Sorry, it’s not available as an ebook. And it will not be available at Amazon.com until the book is published Oct. 11.
After Gravel Road Ahead is published in October, I will be looking for places to do readings, and I will have copies to sell then, but I would love it if you would pre-order a copy.
Order your copy by sending $14.99 plus $2.99 shipping (check or money order made out to “Finishing Line Press”) to Finishing Line Press, P.O. Box 1626, Georgetown, KY 40324. You can also order online at www.finishinglinepress.com. Here is the direct link to the book. Credit card orders will be processed through PayPal. Preordered copies ship Oct. 11, 2019.
How about this? If you preorder a copy, I will buy you lunch for an equivalent price if you can arrange to be here on the central Oregon coast. Ocean view and everything. I’m serious. Aside from writing poetry, going out to lunch is my favorite thing. And when I can do both at the same time, oh boy, life is good.
And if you don’t want to mess with the publisher, just tell me at email@example.com how many copies you want and we’ll worry about payment and deliver later.
Here’s the title poem to whet your appetite:
GRAVEL ROAD AHEAD
Where my husband lives now, I don’t.
Each day he forgets more
details from the house we bought
with his VA loan. I don’t. I tend them,
sort his papers, pay his bills,
dust his antique rolltop desk.
I linger in his swivel chair,
wearing his red plaid shirt, staring
at my small hands peeking out
from frayed cuffs with missing buttons,
toying with his ballpoint pen.
I straighten his paper clips, delaying
my drive up the steep winding road
to where my husband lives now
in a numbered room with an ocean view,
where the pavement ends, and I don’t.
Family update: I have just returned from another trip to San Jose. My father moved from a skilled nursing facility to Somerset Senior Living, where he stayed for a few months after he broke his leg in 2017. It’s a very nice and very expensive place, located in a former convent. He’s settling in, still hoping to get back on his feet and resume his independent life. His biggest problem right now, besides not being able to stand up without help, is boredom, so if anyone can call or visit, that would be great. Email or Facebook message me for his address and phone number.
Annie spent a lovely week with the Cramer family while I was gone. She went to work with Sandy and played with David and the kids at home. She was still healing from her surgery for a growth on her leg that turned out to be benign, praise God. She’ll have a gnarly scar, but we’re done with the protective collar and she’s running around like nothing happened.
Have a great week. Help an author. Buy a book.
Let’s talk about poetry. Wait! Don’t click away. And for God’s sake, don’t start reciting “Roses are red, violets are blue . . .” That’s the response I get from my brother. When I gave my father a homemade collection of my poems for Christmas a few years ago, he smiled at the dog picture on the cover and set it aside. I suspect the other copies met the same fate. (I have a few more, if you want one).
I do not come from poetry-reading people. Except one. My Grandma Rachel Fagalde, technically my step-grandmother, set me on the poetry path. She wrote poetry herself and fed me books of poetry, inscribed to “my dear little Susie” from “Gramma” Rachel. I read Robert Frost, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Marianne Moore, Shakespeare, and obscure poets whose chapbooks she found at rummage sales. Someday my chapbooks may meet the same fate. I hope somebody else’s grandmother will buy a copy.
I was thrilled to receive those poetry books. I sat around reading them out loud, and I started writing my own poetry. The other kids thought I was weird.
I wrote my first poem, a ditty about Thanksgiving, at 7, got published in various school publications, and got paid for a poem that appeared in something called Valley Views when I was in high school. Poetry was my thing, but you can’t make a living writing poetry, so I majored in journalism at San Jose State and went into the newspaper biz, keeping my poetry on the side. When I finally made it through grad school at age 51, I earned a degree in creative nonfiction, not poetry. Now I write both.
Although my early efforts resembled the nursery rhymes I grew up with, all sing-songy and rhyming, today’s poems are much more conversational. I avoid twisted sentences and words like “ere,” “thou” and “o’er.” I rarely rhyme. So what makes it a poem instead of a short essay cut into lines? First, poems are compact. You can tell a whole story in a three-line haiku.
First autumn morning
the mirror I stare into
shows my father’s face.
– Murakami Kijo
Second, they use imagery. Read “My Mother’s Colander” by Dorianne Laux. See what I mean? I have a colander just like that, by the way. But it’s not just about the colander, is it?
I was a poetry-writing kid who became a poetry-writing grownup who is now a poetry-writing senior citizen. In recent years, I have published quite a few poems in literary magazines [see www.suelick.com for samples]. I love to read my poems to live audiences.
I am excited to report that my first poetry book will be coming out later this year from Finishing Line Press. Called Gravel Road Ahead, it is a chapbook, meaning a little book about 30 pages long, that follows the journey my late husband and I took through Alzheimer’s disease. I have published quite a few books of prose, but this is different. I am very excited. And nervous.
(Pre-orders are being taken through Aug. 16. Click here or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me how many copies you want. )
Right now I’m focusing on Gravel Road Ahead because the pre-publication sales begin next Monday. I hope to show you the cover then and provide info on how to pre-order a copy.
In addition to the book, my poem, “Mustering out,” channeling my father’s voice, was published at www.rattle.com last month. They even paid me. Another poem, “They’ll Have to Order the Parts,” appeared in the Atticus Review on May 29.
Grandma Rachel used to send me copies of her own poems with her illegible letters. I collected some of them after she died. I suspect the people cleaning out the house threw some poems away, not realizing the precious gifts they were. She didn’t publish much. Instead she trained me to start my career with my first copies of Writer’s Digest and all those poetry books. Well, it took a few years, but I’ve done it.
Will I make money at this? No. Real poets have day jobs.
It’s sad when only poets read poetry. Believe me, it’s not all like the stuff your teachers might have made you read in high school. Give it a try.