Day of the Dead: a Poem

Day of the Dead: a Poem

It’s become a regular thing for us to free-write at our semi-weekly meetings. We often choose several words randomly out of books, usually just by pointing at a page. The words for this poem were [machine, skeleton, breakfast, accident, engine]. Where do poems come from? Who knows, but I’m particularly proud of this one. I did a little bit of editing after the meeting: took out a lot of gerunds (-ing nouns), replacing some adjectives, tidying up some of my punctuation, but overall, the feel and the theme of the poem are the same as when I wrote it. I hope you enjoy it. Please leave your thoughts in the comments!

Day of the Dead

Gears grind

Smoke fills the air

The people scatter

And the fire glows

The coals burn hot

The bellows bow in and out

The man digs his shoulders

The shovel scrapes the earth

Moving amongst the belts and wires

Shadows melt and reappear

While the heat builds, wavers.

Windows high above

Show the night sky, its blue-black

Scrubbed and grey, a few stars peek from behind the smoke

The constellations are skeletons of their former selves

Swirling in the sky and nearly collapsing

Sugar skulls for Day of the Dead,

They lick the ash from the moon as they travel by

On their way west

They will eat a breakfast feast:

Brunch with the saints.

The stars depart as the sun struggles over the cloud-choked horizon

Dragging itself home like an old, accident-prone alley cat

Who can’t quite find its feet—instead takes a tumble before slinking across the sky

And we, the night shift, the machine,

the parts of the machine, the engine and its pistons,

The cogs and the coal,

Stumble to the nearest bar for steak and eggs and a cold High Life beer;

Sold on the dream that we won’t hold, the machine that runs us instead.

October Fire

October Fire

The air is dry and snaps my hair like twigs

Fires burn along the ridge of the mountain

Ashes swirl down and settle in our hair, grey wigs

Of your auburn locks and my brown mop


Blow in the wind as the leaves fall

I hear them crunch under my shoes as I walk

Red cheeks glow as I sit close to the fire pit

With the cool wind haunting me on Halloween night


October fire glowing inside the pumpkin

October leaves crunching beneath my feet

October fire that brought me life, color and warmth

October fire that cooks and melts marshmallows


Warm and safe we gather here,

We take the time together,

We build our fire, and tend to it,

Our guardian from cold weather.

Addicted to First Dates

Addicted to First Dates

I have a confession to make.   I am hopelessly addicted to the first stages of dating someone new.  I love the excitement of a first date, wondering what to wear, spending hours getting ready, and the look of appreciation on my date’s face when we first see each other.  I get lost in the endless conversations, sharing favorite stories the other person hasn’t heard yet, getting to know one another.  I like to play the cards in my deck, flirting, meeting his tone, laughing at each other’s jokes.  I thoroughly enjoy the intense interest in everything I say and do, and I eat up his compliments like chocolate chips.  I long for the butterflies in my stomach with anxious anticipation, and crave the tingling of my skin as he brushes his hand against mine.  I even welcome the feeling of disappointment when the evening ends.  I like the spontaneity that comes along with the beginning stages of dating, experiencing new things with someone new.  These are the great things about dating.  But, just like any other addiction, there is a price to pay for indulging.  The men that I attract seem to get on the hook so quick. It starts with calls and texts, asking what my plans are, attempting to invade all of my free time.  They want to go from first date to wedding day in a blink of an eye, which inevitably leads to heartbreak or anger.  So, any time someone asks me to dinner or feeds me a line, I try to remember the fact that I am in emotional rehab, and I am focusing on me.  So I say no.  And then I go home, eat ice cream, and try to pretend that I am not lonely.

Dead Hair

Dead Hair

My mother, just like my grandmother did, went to a small one woman beauty shop. Every Friday she had an appointment at 10:00 am. When my father retired he expected that she go just like his mother. The beauty shop was next to a closed gas station. The parking lot was mostly mud puddles with a few pebbles of limestone. On rainy days old cars and farm trucks parked between the puddles -not the lines like in a city parking lot. This was Jerri’s Beauty Shop; rented from a local realtor who refused to improve the septic system. Every month Jerri and Nancy’s café split the cost of having the septic tank cleaned out. Jerri was in early thirties- her clients in their 70’s, 80’s and who knows- a hundred? They were mostly women but a few widowed men and some recent divorced ones came to her. Sometimes the appointment schedule was changed by recent obits in the Robertson County Times; her clients didn’t move they just died. Jerri’s was a place with a yellowed tile floor, one swivel chair and two actual dryers that you sat under. In modern mall salons those archaic hooded chairs have all but disappeared. When I was young my father was worked out of state most of the time. My mother didn’t go to the beauty shop except when she wanted a haircut. She styled and colored her hair herself with a brush and a bottle of L’Oréal. Because she was so active and such an outdoors person her regular hair ornament was a red bandana tied around her forehead for a sweat band. My father retired at age 65. She was 64. The beauty shop appointments became a ritual on Fridays. At age 75 my mother had a tractor accident. I told my friends that you weren’t a redneck until you could say that your mother had an accident on a farm tractor. My father, who “operated heavy equipment” which translated meant he could drive anything, farm tractors, bulldozers, side booms and semi-tractor trailer trucks. He decided on a summer day that weeds in the fence row needed to be killed. He rigged up a platform on the front of the farm tractor so that the forks which were used to move large hay rolls could be slipped into a wooden pallet. On this he sat a plastic lawn chair. The boom lifted the platform up and down. The chair was there to sit in comfort. It was a plan. He would drive the tractor. She would sit in the chair and hold the can of Round-up. He would ease up on the tall vines and she would hold the 3 gallon tank with one hand and spray with the other hand. There was a big flaw in this plan. Neither the two secured the chair to the platform. Late in the afternoon almost sunset, after many cans of weed killer emptied, my father said, “Let’s finish out this row and then go home.” I’m sure she agreed- she always did. With one more lift into the air they were off to another rocky, uneven section of the wired fence row. He shifted gears and with his mind somewhere else he accelerated in a short thrust of speed. The tractor wheel ran over a rock and the chair tipped- my mother falling from the chair, from the platform onto the rocky fescue. She landed on her right shoulder. It was broken and she was in severe pain. This was the beginning of her helplessness. The surgery never connected the shoulder joint again. Seeing her without a blouse was to see her shoulder joint dislocated, dropped and hanging limp. She was right handed. “The first surgery didn’t work so why would I want to have another?” She said  to me when I asked her what her doctor said about the disabled arm.

She stopped going outside. Her flowers died. The birds didn’t get fed anymore. She stopped cooking. Paper plates became daily place settings. Now she couldn’t drive. My father willingly became her chauffeur taking her for her weekly beauty shop appointments. Sometimes I would pick her up. Jerri cut and styled her white hair. The bangs were yellow from nicotine. It had become thin and brittle. Her hair became a mask of sorts- to say that one can be presentable and viable with a “helmet hair-do.” If you look ok you must be ok. Sometimes I brushed her hair on days that she needed some “right hand assistance.” Over the months and years I noticed that her hair had changed its texture. For many months she was lying covered in a thin white cotton blanket, her back to mine in a fetal knot facing the wall as I stood at the side of her bed. It was painful to see her give up and hide. Some years after she died I ran into Jerri at the grocery store. I didn’t live there anymore and it was a chance to reconnect with familiar faces. I thanked her for taking care of my mother all those years, keeping up appearances is a big deal. People expect a certain face and attitude all the time. Demise and failure, even in sickness and in death, is to be avoided at all costs. There is always “The appearance of all is good” to be achieved. To lighten the subject I added my observations of my mother’s hair. She leaned over and lowered her smoker’s voice, “I can tell when they are going to die. I can feel it between my fingers when I cut their hair.” I reached to her and squeezed her hand. She was in pain too. All her clients seemed to die and the young ones didn’t want a “Jerri style.” In her career as a stylist I bet they never told her she would be able to be a fortune teller. She knew what “dead hair” felt like.

Bras, Breast and the Beast.

Bras, Breast and the Beast.

Menstruation develops

Forms and molds

A child into a fragile female

Left in a dressing room to grasp, tug and pull

The snaps, hooks, eyes and straps

Saddled up, enclosed and hidden

The pink nipples

Hide behind a cotton cloth

A training bra of manipulated meat

To be disciplined and controlled

Terrified of being known

That I bleed in my panties

and my nipples are sore

Painted by Tanya Radic Mixed Media entitled Puberty.
Painted by Tanya Radic Mixed Media entitled Puberty.


Lysol Douching Advertisement
Lysol Douching Advertisement

A sacrament of purification to anoint my vagina to cleanse secretions rinsing the blood and the sperm away. The drugstore sold solutions of cherry, peach and strawberry.   The beauty magazine promoted in full page ads, ” Clean and fresh down there.” It was “Cupids Quiver”,  a beauty tool.

I mixed mine in  the kitchen sink:  a solution of vinegar and water. In times of need: after sex or after bleeding for a week I’d do the deed; mixing a heavy solution of Lysol in a red rubber bag with a long white hose.  It was the stuff the janitor used to clean the floors in the bathrooms of bus stations. It was a secret that everyone knew, ” Lysol is used for birth control, too.”

It killed the germs, the sperm and the smell so that I wouldn’t bear fruit and  my belly swell. If he knew about his he’d kill me if he didn’t he’d leave me. I felt the world of doom in the third degree lying in that  freezing tub- my feet propped high on the wall as the warm water ran out of me.

It burned deep inside.  It was almost suicide. To avoid disease and another child. I anointed my womb with germicide.

High and Almighty in High Heel Shoes

High and Almighty in High Heel Shoes

Is it the foot or the fool that wants the high stumbling in six inch heels? At home, go barefoot. The backyard sole requires rubber and the street demands lovers and leather. Shaky legs tremble wobbly like a newborn filly.  She twists her ankles like tornadoes balancing on the tight rope.

A girl’s best friend makes her sexy and proud when the fear of falling takes her to the ground. Holding on to tables and chairs.

Heel. Toe. Slow. Shifting.

Advance. Tiptoe.

Stand up straight. Relax your knees.

Shorten your steps like a baby.

Perching on the stilts. Look up. Never at the ground.

Tears reside inside your cheeks. The quiver in your bottom lip.

Blisters on your ankles. The pain in your sole.

Smile with the confidence of Marilyn Monroe.

Eyes on the prize.  Lift your shoulders high. Keep your tummy tight.

Break the shoes like a wild horse to the saddle.

Dance around the kitchen. Fly up the stairs.

Practice at the grocery store holding on to carts.

Tiptoeing across the parking lot you giggle.

Strolling, stepping, glidding.

Walk ever so slow with your head up high.

You see him.  He sees you.

You catch him looking at you. He smiles.

Walk proud.  Only in high heels can you walk on the clouds.



(This was written during our writer’s weekend this month.  It’s one of my favorite writing methods with the group….Pass The Poem Writing)


(pictured: Heather, Carol, Ashley & Tamara)

Sheep skin rug in front of the potbelly stove

Pizza on a Friday night, leftovers on Sunday

Hanging with my neighbors across the road at the bonfire

Celebrating my birthday and the fire of life in my belly

October fire that brought life to me

Life when the leaves were falling and trees dying

October fire that warmed me on my mother’s lap

October fire that brought color to my life

Orange flame glowing like the orange of the leaves

The pumpkins on porches and the coolness of the breeze

I wrap my scarf tight to my neck

Stir the fire once with a stick

Breath in the nights cold, sharp wet

And exhale the years cares.

By Heather Norell, Carol Haislip, Ashley Maze and Tamara Scott



Although I know it is 2015, there are times I feel like I am still stuck in the sixties.

At the age of sixty eight, I wonder why I am still so vain. I never leave home without all my makeup on, and even at home the minimum requirement is lipstick and mascara just in case someone drops by. Why can’t I just be the natural me and not worry about it? Why do I refuse to ask for the senior discount although I am entitled to it? Why do I feel so good when someone says I don’t look sixty eight? I don’t think I am alone with this vanity issue. My mother-in-law is ninety one and has never wanted to tell her age. A few weeks ago some ladies she had just met told her she didn’t look a day over eighty, and she was thrilled. I thought to myself, “no matter how old women get, being guessed 10 years younger is always a compliment. Younger women love being carded and asked to prove they are twenty one. Where is the line between taking pride in the way we look and vanity? Why aren’t we proud to be sixty eight and eligible for a senior discount? Why do we love being told we look 10 years younger than we are even at ninety one?  Why do we enjoy being carded to prove we are twenty one?  Well, I think it is because of men like Donald Trump!

When Mr. Trump made his insulting comment about Carly Fiorina’s face a few weeks ago, I felt I had left 2015 and was back in high school during the 1960’s when pretty was all that mattered.  I had thought I had reached a time in history when women were now being judged by their character, intellect, and accomplishments and not by their looks. Apparently I was wrong. Women can now be lawyers, doctors, and even possibly the next president of the United States, but we are still being judged by our faces. Mr. Trump’s question was: “Look at that face! Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president? Well, yes, I can! I will not be voting for Mrs. Fiorina, but it won’t be because of her face. 

As a child, I can remember that being termed or called pretty was the highest compliment a person could give you. Being smart was never as good as being pretty. Mr. Trump’s words brought that memory back and angered me. How could a man living in 2015 and running for president of our country say anything so insulting and ridiculous to or about a woman? Does he think his wealth and power gives him the freedom to insult women? In high school it was the popular boys who could decide which girls were pretty and which ones were not. His words took me back to those days.

I believe that men like Donald Trump are why I can’t leave the house without all my makeup on and why I don’t like myself in my mirror unless I have on at least lipstick and mascara. What if someone sees me while I am out and thinks I am not pretty? How horrible! Donald Trump and those boys in high school are the reason I can’t embrace my age and ask for my senior discount. What is worse than being an older woman? Mr. Trump and men like him are why women want to look ten years younger.

Mr. Trump says he loves and respects women, but apparently only if they are beautiful and 20-30 years younger like his three wives. Thankfully all men are not like Mr. Trump – my husband being one of them. But when was the last time someone described you as being smart and accomplished? When was the last time you would have preferred that description rather than being described as pretty or ten years younger than you are?  Can I really blame Donald Trump and those boys in high school or is it my own vanity that is my worst enemy?

***I wrote this essay somewhat tongue in cheek blaming Mr. Trump for my vanity, but I do believe we pay our daughters a disservice when we allow the descriptor “pretty” to be the ultimate compliment. And, men do still evaluate women on their looks. Why do we accept that evaluation?

Sweet Annie

Sweet Annie

Although I know Zac Brown’s song “Sweet Annie” is about a girl, when I hear it, I think of my ten-year-old beagle, Annie. From the first moment I saw her big brown eyes, that white-tipped tail raised in the air, and that prissy walk, I knew Annie was special; it was love at first sight.

Annie is my constant companion. She comes running when she hears the car keys because she knows that means a ride. She naps with me in the porch swing, and she is also my walking companion. When I walk, I like to power walk – no strolling or ambling. However, Annie prefers a more leisurely pace. At times I become impatient when she slows that pace, and I tug at the leash to make her keep up.

     One morning, Annie could not stand up on her back legs, and she was in extreme pain. An x-ray revealed a vertebra that was fusing, and the vet gave her a steroid shot and recommended rest. I decided that she would no longer be allowed to jump up and off the sofa. I purchased a pink, fuzzy bed and brought it home thinking how much she would love it. Annie hated it; she sniffed it, turned up her nose, pranced to the couch, and stood looking at me with her big brown eyes asking that I put her on the couch. I said, “no.” She turned around, walked to her old crate and pouted. I also decided that Annie would no longer receive any treats or food from the table; losing weight would help her back. She was not happy.

     After about three weeks, I decided that maybe Annie was ready for a walk. She was lying in the pink bed with her chin hanging forlornly over the edge; she was so bored and depressed, but when she saw me lacing up my walking shoes, her head popped up, and her tail began to wag. I decided to let Annie set the pace on that walk. I did not power walk, and I did not tug at her leash or admonish her to keep up.

When we returned, she headed straight to the sofa and again turned those big brown eyes on me. I said “no” but picked her up and put her beside me in the recliner. She snuggled up and went straight to sleep.

     As I watched her sleep, I realized that she is getting older. I also realized that instead of taking Annie for a walk, it was the time to allow Annie to take me for a walk. She has earned the right to set the pace, the right to stop and pee every twenty feet, and the right to sniff anything and everything that she wants. When she woke up, I put her on the sofa where she has earned the right to rest, and I gave her treats from the table; she has earned those too. She is my sweet Annie!

This is a previous narrative I wrote about my sweet beagle friend, Annie. It appeared in the December issue of Dog Fancy. Thank you Ashley for encouraging me to send this writing in. Without your encouragement, it would have remained on my computer.