The Archbishop Can’t See What I’m Doing While I Listen to His Sermon

Cover-Front-WidowPiano(web) 2With most churches are closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, many are offering online services. At St. Anthony in Waldport, Oregon, I was part of the music team on Saturday for the Mass we videotaped to be put online Sunday. I played piano and sang, Stella played guitar. We had one reader, one server, and three real parishioners with photos of the rest taped to the pews. It was as normal as it could be under the circumstances. You can watch that Mass here.

When Sunday came, I had already attended the St. Anthony Mass, plus I didn’t want to watch myself on the screen, so I chose a different church.

Why not go to the top? Archbishop Sample led Mass at the cathedral in Portland at 11 a.m. Very holy, very formal, trained singers, beautiful statues and paintings in the background. In person, I would have dressed up and been on my best behavior. But having gotten up late, I was sitting at home in sweat pants and tee shirt with unbrushed teeth and no makeup. I was still drinking my tea from breakfast, and I was surrounded by distractions. I wanted to go through that pile of papers on my desk. I wanted to check my email and Facebook. I wanted to get up and walk around. You can’t do any of that when you’re sitting in a pew at an actual church surrounded by other people–or when you’re sitting at the piano in clear view of the priest and everyone else.

Nor can you offer commentary. I can’t help myself. My new chapbook of poems, The Widow at the Piano, is subtitled “Poems by a Distracted Catholic” for good reason. With no outer filter, my mind squirreled all over the place.

Why are they wearing rose-colored vestments; it’s still Lent. But they sure are pretty.

Why does the archbishop keep changing hats?

I count 13 people in there. Aren’t we supposed to keep it to 10?

Who is that guy? Is he a deacon?

Hey, that’s Angela, the choir director; I’ve seen her online.

Is there a quartet in there? Social distancing!

The archbishop sure has a nice singing voice.

Oh, look at all those empty pews.

Pay attention, Sue, he’s turning the bread and wine into Jesus’ body and blood.

Latin chant again?

Hey, “amen” is the same in both languages.

Ah, tricky, they put a painting on the screen while they received communion, so we won’t feel bad.

That sure was a short song.

Ugh, more organ music.

Should I be kneeling or something?

Oh, it’s over. No closing song?

Well, that was nice, but I don’t feel like I’ve been to church.

So it goes. A week ago Sunday, I attended two full Masses and portions of Lutheran and Presbyterian services. During the week, I said the rosary with the Archbishop and watched Pope Francis preach in an empty St. Peter’s Square. It was raining. The cantor held an umbrella over himself and his music. The pope spoke Italian with a woman translating in English. I kept trying to understand the Italian. The pope seemed to be limping pretty badly. I was relieved when he finally sat down. But it was nice to be there without the crowds.

Maybe I’ll try the Portuguese church in San Jose next week. Why not?

There’s religion all over the net, and I am so distracted.

Speaking of distractions, I was supposed to do my first reading and my first book-signing for the new one last week. Both were canceled. I’m afraid my poor books will just disappear. I had hoped to publicize both The Widow at the Piano and my other chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, which came out last October, together. Now . . . piffle, as my late husband used to say.

I’m not the only author in this fix. Spring is book-launch season, and many events have been knocked out by the virus. Readings, signings, talks, workshops, conferences, all canceled. What should we do? Just wait? But here are these lovely books. I am going to try to record some of the poems and share them online. Stay tuned.

I’ll give some books away, too. For the first 10 people who are willing to read and post about The Widow at the Piano or Gravel Road Ahead on your blog, at Goodreads, or on Amazon.com—or all three, I will send a free copy of the chapbook of your choice. Email me at sufalick@gmail.com if you’re interested.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep seeking religion online. I can’t guarantee that I’ll behave while I’m watching. Maybe if I could do it with a group, I’d be more reverent, but oh yes, we can’t congregate. Have you tried going to church online? What is it like for you? Or are you just going to commune with God on your own via meditation or time spent in nature?

Neither of my grandfathers were regular church-goers, but they were good men. For Grandpa Fagalde, all those hours he spent fishing, staring at the ocean, may have been church enough. Grandpa Avina might have been listening to San Francisco Giants baseball games while the women went to church. Whatever works.

Stay well. Do the best you can to avoid getting sick, but don’t make yourself crazy. You cannot sterilize the entire world and everything in it.

Buy books.

Amen.

I Hereby Reject Their Rejections

In the first 17 days of this year, 12 different publishers rejected my poems and essays. That’s a lot, more than I have ever received in a bunch before. I belong to an online group that tries to get 100 rejections a year, reasoning that the more we send out, the better our chances of getting published. So far, I’m winning, but it’s a dubious honor, a contest I’d rather lose. Last year, I made it to 68 rejections, but I also had several individual poems, two essays, and two chapbooks accepted for publication. I thought I was on a roll.

Twelve rejections. After number 10, I prayed to God to not send anymore. Number 11 arrived that day. The next day looked like it would be rejection-free, but when I checked my email at bedtime, there was number 12. I cried.

In the olden days, rejections came in the mail. The “rejection slips” came in all different sizes and colors, and writers told each other that if the editor added a handwritten note, that meant they were on the verge of success. Now, most rejections come by email and they look pretty much the same. Thank you for letting us see your work. We regret to inform you that we will not be able to use it. Good luck with your writing. The chart on Submittable, the online app that most publishers use for submissions these days, changes the listing for your piece from “in progress” to “declined.” There’s nothing to hang on the wall and no break from rejection between mail deliveries.

It’s hard not to doubt your ability in the face of so much rejection. About half of my current rejections came from contests in which I did not win or place, including one I thought was a sure thing. I was a finalist in that one twice before. Ah, humility, one of the virtues. Practically speaking, I’m aware that the editors have just come back from the holidays and are clearing their desks for new rounds of submissions. It’s just a matter of timing.

It’s tempting to say my writing sucks and give up, in spite of the people who have told me they like my writing. My essay in Creative Nonfiction last year was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. My writing does not suck, and I am not quitting. I know all the reasons for rejections, including the sheer volume of submissions that make the odds very tough. Sometimes it’s just not the right flavor. They want lemon and I sent strawberry. Sometimes they just have way too much strawberry already. Sometimes they prefer rhubarb.

We like to think of our stories and poems as art, but once we start submitting them to editors, they become products. We know from our own shopping experiences that we don’t buy everything presented to us. I once published an article comparing this writing biz to shoe shopping. Sometimes the customer doesn’t really need shoes; they’re just looking. Sometimes they want shoes but not that style or that color or that size. The shoe salesman doesn’t take it personally when they walk out without buying anything. Thus it is with our writing. If one customer says no, we try another.

Think about selling vacuum cleaners door to door. If the first person says no, we knock on another door. Sometimes we have to knock on an awful lot of doors before someone says yes. But sometimes that one person who says yes tells all her friends, who also want to buy what you’re selling. Suddenly you’re selling lots and lots of vacuum cleaners. That’s what we want.

An article in the current issue of Poets and Writers magazine suggests that rejection is a good thing. It forces us to present our very best work and to keep trying harder. And I do. After decades of writing and publishing, I know the drill. Record the rejection and find somewhere else to send the work. Take another look to make sure it’s still as good as you thought it was. Tweak as needed to fit the new market, and send it out again. Meanwhile, keep the word factory going because the writing is more important than the selling.

There will be days you wish you took up a different trade. Plumbing, for example. Who would reject a plumber?

On the happy side of the biz, I have a poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead, out now. You can order it at Amazon or through your favorite local bookseller, as well as at the publisher, Finishing Line Press. My next chapbook, due out March 15, is The Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic. You can preorder it now from The Poetry Box.

Whatever God has given you to do, keep at it. If you haven’t earned 100 rejections, keep trying.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Distracted Catholic confesses via poems

Cover-Front-WidowPiano(web) 2Happy 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 sufalick@gmail.com 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.

 

 

Writing Here, There and Everywhere

I’m back. Back home and back from my NaNoWriMo blog sabbatical in which I endeavored to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The annual National Novel Writing Month competition draws hundreds of thousands to compete in this madness, and many succeed.  https://www.cartridgepeople.com/info/blog/nanowrimo-statistics

I wrote 55,000 words. I’m not getting all the NaNoWriMo prizes because I divided my words between two different projects, a nonfiction book that’s still in its early days—17,023 words–and a sequel to my novel Up Beaver Creek—38,130. Add them together, and I’ve got 55,153. That does not count all the other stuff I wrote during the month, including journal entries, new poems, and posts at my Childless by Marriage blog. This word factory produces many products.

I don’t know why the competition takes place in November. It’s such a busy month. Why not pick January when we’re all revved up with New Year’s resolutions, there’s not much else happening (okay, yes, the Superbowl), and there are 31 days instead of 30?

This November was extra crazy. Of the 30 days, I spent 15 away from home. I drove approximately 2,000 miles, bringing my Honda Element up to 130,000 miles. My travels took me to the Portland Book Festival, Ellen Bass’s Fire and Ice poetry workshop in Scott’s Valley, California, a night in Santa Cruz and a day at Seacliff Beach where I spent much of my childhood.

I followed that with three days in Santa Clara writing, catching up with family, and saying goodbye to my childhood home, which has been cleaned out and sold. From Santa Clara, I drove to the outskirts of Yosemite for Thanksgiving with my brother’s family. When I left there on Saturday, because I-5 was blocked with snow, I had to take the long way home, extending my usual California-Oregon drive from 13 hours to 18, much of it in the rain.

Between trips, I prepared for installation of a gas fireplace and a propane tank at my house. I sold copies of my recently published chapbook Gravel Road Ahead and read the final proofs for the next chapbook, Widow at the Piano, which is coming out in March, took Annie to the vet and started giving her four different medicines every day for arthritis and an ear infection, and said goodbye to my job at Sacred Heart Church.

Through it all, I wrote. I had treated myself to a new laptop, a small ASUS with super-long battery life, so I could write wherever I was. I wrote on motel room beds and desks, in coffee shops, on my brother’s sofa in front of the TV, and in the commons at Oregon Coast Community College. I wrote sitting, standing and lying down. I wrote when I knew what I was going to say and when I didn’t, nudged by the counter at the NaNaWriMo website to reach my daily goal and keep the line on the graph going up.

I joined two of the NaNoWriMo write-ins at a new local cafe (Wolf Tree, near the college). I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write with other people around, but it was great. We all focused on our own stories, taking bathroom and snack breaks as needed, and the words poured out.

But for the need to get dressed, I might do all of my writing in coffee shops. Or bars, depending on my mood.

As the end of the month neared, other writers started reporting on Facebook that they had “won” NaNoWriMo, reaching their 50,000-word goal. A week ago, I knew I wouldn’t meet that goal on my novel, although I would make it with both my projects combined. That’s okay. My 38,000 words is a lot of words. It’s 152 double-spaced pages, halfway to a completed novel. My protagonist PD and her friends have already gone through a lot, with more to come. I will keep going, although maybe not at the same breakneck pace. I will go back to taking Sundays off. I will let myself read fiction again. But this novel that was only a maybe, possibly, I’m-not-sure kind of thing is real now. And my other project has a good start.

I plan to do NaNoWriMo again. It’s exciting to write so much so quickly and with such great camaraderie as writers all over the world do the same thing. Not every novel written during NaNoWriMo gets published or even finished, but it’s fun to go into an imaginary world and let the words fly.

Anyone who writes fiction knows all the writing does not take place on the keyboard or the page. Your mind keeps working on story problems. Yesterday, while I was driving through the rain between Eureka and Crescent City, California, I suddenly had such a great idea I was shouting and banging the steering wheel. Yes! That’s perfect! That’s how PD is going to ID the bad guy. Of course! Other drivers might have suspected I drank more than orange juice and green tea with my breakfast.

Kudos to our regional NaNoWriMo leader Nikki Atkins, who finished her 50,000 way early while acting in two different plays at the local theater. For years, she has kept local writers inspired with her enthusiasm and support. How could anyone not succeed with Nikki cheering them on?

So I’m home. Back with Annie. Back at my desk. Back with a pile of receipts for all the money I spent. Back with 163 emails to read. Back facing the six pounds I gained this month eating at restaurants. Back hoping that today, finally, the work on my new gas fireplace and the propane tank outside will be completed, and we will have real heat.

But also back with the glow that comes from setting forth to write something good and succeeding.

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was satisfying. Christmas is only three weeks from Wednesday! I’m not ready. Are you? Here’s a thought. Buy everyone on your gift list copies of Up Beaver Creek so they can be ready when the sequel comes out. Have a great week.

 

 

 

New book features stories about diners

Big Guy's DinerRemember the Big Guy’s Diner? I do. Located in Newport, Oregon, it was a block of white bricks with red window trim. A bell rang when you entered the door. Often the big guy himself, owner Mark Jones, was cooking at the grill. You could sit anywhere. It was casual, and if the plasticized menus were a little sticky and the bathrooms slightly disgusting, so what? You could get a milkshake there that would cure just about anything, and the Monte Cristo sandwiches were heavenly. Although some of our friends decided The Big Guy’s was not up to their standards, Fred and I went there a lot. He was a fan of the two-two-two breakfast: two eggs, two slices of bacon, two pancakes. My order depended on my mood. Feeling virtuous: a BLT and soup or salad with iced tea. Just don’t care anymore: the Monte Cristo with fries and a vanilla milkshake.

After Fred’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, I attended support group meetings in an office across the street in the Sea Towne shopping center. Fred would meet me afterward at the Big Guy’s. It was like a date. I’d park my Honda next to his blue pickup, and we’d say hello as if we were surprised and delighted to run into each other.

Alas, when Fred couldn’t drive anymore, our Big Guy’s dates ended. Soon after that, the restaurant closed. The property sat vacant for years, but finally the old building was razed, and O’Reilly Auto Parts moved in. Fishtails in South Beach became our regular lunch spot.

Dine_Cover_Front_Only_For_Web_06.20Searching through old posts, I’m surprised I didn’t write anything about the Big Guy’s Diner here before. Now I don’t want to say too much because my essay about that piece of Newport history is soon to be published by Hippocampus Press in a new anthology of true stories called Dine. Imagine a whole book devoted to our favorite “greasy spoon” restaurants. They shared the cover last week. Preorders begin in August, with publication Oct. 1. Read more about the book here.

That means I will be promoting two books in October, Dine and my poetry chapbook Gravel Road Ahead. The chapbook is a collection of poems about being the wife of a person with Alzheimer’s disease, from diagnosis to the inevitable end. Preorders for that book are being taken now. I need my friends to order lots of copies to ensure a full press run. Click here, order, tell your friends. If you want an autographed copy or just don’t want to mess with the publisher’s forms, contact me directly at sufalick@gmail.com to let me know how many copies you want, and I’ll put you on the list.

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMI also have a piece on sex (gasp!) about to appear in Creative Nonfiction magazine, and a second chapbook, Widow at the Piano: Confessions of a Distracted Catholic, is coming out from The Poetry Box next March. I have already had poems appear this year in Rattle and Atticus Review. Although 2019 has been the pits personally—all the Dad drama, Annie’s surgery, and certain personal ailments I don’t care to discuss, professionally it has been amazing. Odd-numbered years seem to be good for my writer self.

I feel a little guilty about all this advertising and bragging, but when a friend asked yesterday what I was writing, all I could think of was promotional material for all of these publications. There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes work for every book that comes out.

So, who remembers the Big Guy’s? Now that it’s gone, do you have any suggestions for Oregon diners that would be good for book-signing parties? I can’t think of a better combination than crisp, salty French fries and a good book.

 

 

Are You Sure There’s Nobody Else at Your House?

I just completed a U.S. Census Bureau test questionnaire. The paper I got in the mail said it was required by law. Online. I don’t know how they expect people who don’t have computers—and some don’t—to get this done. But me, I’d rather take a quiz than work, so I logged in.

It didn’t take long. The first part was frustrating because it didn’t seem to believe me when I said I was the only human living in this house. It kept coming back in different ways. Is there another person living there? Is someone else staying with you? Are you sure there’s nobody else there? Maybe I should look in all the closets and under the beds. Should I count my dog? A quarter of U.S. homes are occupied by one human person. Get with the program, Census.

Other than that, they were obsessed with my nationality. I always stumble over this because I’m white AND Hispanic, not white OR Hispanic. I’m a California hybrid of Portuguese, Spanish, Basque, French, and German. There’s no box to check for that. They also wanted to know if I own or rent my home. Sure, I own it, along with whatever mortgage company is handling my loan this week.

When you think about it, my situation would seem extraordinary to someone from a hundred years ago. A woman living alone in a big house in the woods? No husband? No children? Is she a witch? Should we take her into our home and care for her until she recovers her senses? (senses, census, hah) Who will bring in wood for the fire? Who will pay the bills? Who will protect her from bears, wolves, and bad people? Surely she will be raped, robbed and murdered.

Balderdash. She will eat bagels for breakfast, lunch and dinner if she chooses and play the piano in the middle of the night. She will greet rabbits and robins in the morning and crow back to the neighbor’s rooster. She will sit on her deck and survey her estate and thank God it’s 2019.

The controversial citizenship question did not appear on the version of the census questionnaire that I received. In this test version, some respondents get that question while others don’t. It will be interesting to see whether it shows up on later versions. What do you think? Does the Census need to know one’s citizenship status? Could answering that question be dangerous for those who answer that they are not citizens?

*****

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMWe are one week into the advance sales period for my upcoming poetry chapbook, Gravel Road Ahead. This is a collection of poems that follow my journey with Fred through Alzheimer’s disease. Early readers report that they laughed and cried and certain lines have stuck with them. The print run depends on selling enough pre-publication copies. Please click here and order a copy today. My offer from last week stands. If you can get yourself to Lincoln County, Oregon and show that you purchased a pre-pub copy, I will take you out to lunch anywhere from Lincoln City to Yachats for an equivalent price. I’m serious. So click here and start thinking about where you want to eat.

Also, if you want to order directly from me and work out payment and delivery later, just email me at sufalick@gmail.com and let me know how many copies you want me to set aside for you.

P.S. I hate advertising my work. I’d much rather be writing, but this is part of the deal these days. I wonder if Mark Twain ever did this. I just read yesterday in the Writer’s Almanac that Twain was the first writer to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher. It was Life on the Mississippi, submitted in 1883. I suppose shortly after the typewriter was patented in 1868, the first “typo” was invented. Followed by the eraser and “Wite-Out.”

Have a great week. Buy my book. Check under the bed for people hiding from the Census.

 

 

Gravel Road Ahead pre-pub sales begin

Lick_Sue_Fagalde_COV_EMIn 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 sufalick@gmail.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.

Weird Poetry-Writing Kid Gets Published

Sue 6719HLet’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 sufalick@gmail.com 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.