Short Takes

The photographs on this page are from Rain Change, a suite of photographs by Sally Buffington.

Introduction: WTF Is It with This Weather??!!

When we decided to focus on climate change in this issue, we had no idea what an outpouring of excellent stories, poems, paintings, and photography would result. Nor did we anticipate that our decision to use a millennial shorthand in titling Short Takes–one that would demonstrate how we all feel about climate change–might not sit well with all our readers. We want to reassure those of you who were put off by our choice of semi-ripe language that we do understand and appreciate your response to it. This is evidenced by the exchanges, below, between two concerned readers and our editor, Peggy Wagner.
 
One subscriber wrote:
 

I’m sure you will receive wonderfully creative submissions for Short Takes re the weather. I have to say, though, that the title, for me, is disappointing. We have to endure so much these days that might be called “foul.” But to see the wording of the title to the theme for the current “Short Takes” made my heart sink. Do we really need to [be] reminded of what is base in our language? When we are the champions of words? 

 
A second subscriber wrote us in a similar vein:
 

I am a long-time subscriber to Persimmon Tree, have submitted and been published in Persimmon Tree. However, I was somewhat offended by your title for the short
takes. I’ve always thought this is a classy, artistic publication and I find there is no reason to result to street language for a prompt. Spring, the season of rebirth, can cause disappointment but why not encourage spring positivity rather than rants.

 
Peggy replied similarly to both readers. I’ll quote here from one: 
 

Thank you for your response to our “Call for Submissions” email. My colleagues and I appreciate receiving your thoughts. As you know, from being one of our subscriber/readers, everyone at Persimmon Tree deeply respects the power and integrity of language–written, visual, and musical.
 
The arts are also expressions of the temper of the times in which they are created. We are currently in an era when climate change is contributing to difficulties that wreak havoc in the lives of many individuals–-a fact that tends to result in sharp linguistic expressions. These are not a debasement of language, but rather visceral reactions to trying circumstances. That is what we recognized in the wording of the Spring 2023 Short Takes topic.
 
I regret that the wording offended you. And, again, thank you for contacting us. With respect and best wishes,
 
Margaret (Peggy) Wagner
Editor

 

Let me say again that all of us deeply respect both sides of this argument. It has prompted us to think—and then to think again—as, I expect, it will many of you. In particular, it has led me to think about the power, the connotations and emotions, the ever-changing nature of the English language. I might propose that we devote Short Takes in some future issue to that very topic. 

If you’d like to add your responses about the title of this issue’s Short Takes, do please post a comment at the bottom of this page.

 

 

 

 

Capriccio in D Minor, Op. 116, No. 7

 

A capriccio is a prank, a flight of whimsy or fantasy, and, in music, an instrumental piece in free form, lively and brilliant. Brahms composed his Capriccio in D Minor sometime in 1892 or 1893, when he was turning 60. This capriccio is neither whimsical nor light. It is a study in contrasts, beginning with a stormy flight so quick that only a pianist as nimble as Gena could keep up, melding into a middle section of almost beatific serenity, only to quicken again, with a shocking suddenness, into another passage of quickly tumbling notes.

 

 

What’s in a Name

Greenhouse effect suggests an arboretum’s musky fecundity,
not nature ruined and everybody dead.
A future we squinted to see 
from Al Gore’s movie or casual observation, 
like out-of-season weather for a year or two.
Easy to toss such miscellany in a junk drawer
with our rotting rubber bands.
 
Then came global warming, a moniker we laughed at 
in ice storms, argued with, or coolly pinned to glacier cracks 
or random heaves of melting permafrost—
notes on a bulletin board, covered by internal weather
like the lead-cold grief that moves in when a loved one dies.
Global warming sounded benign—Florida in winter.
Before long came climate change 
in deference to doomsday fires, 
rising seas drowning people and land, plagues of hurricanes.
 
Then COVID struck. Calamity.
Climate change—too neutral,
like changing baby’s diaper or replacing the oil in a gas-fed car.
 
Lately I hear global weirdness,
passed off as sarcastic shorthand 
that draws attention to the speaker’s wit 
and downplays the immensity of doom.
 
Remember Bergman’s film The Seventh Seal?
The scrape of a woodman’s saw, mostly off camera, 
where the grim reaper, that cutting old fool,
will topple the tree where the frightened man 
the camera lingers on 
has climbed to escape danger.

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

Hurricane Ian Approaches

First, our eyewalls notice that the sky shades begin to fluctuate, blue to cobalt, 
gray to charcoal, like ominous cumulonimbus. Storm cloud colors that set the great white egrets paler in flight.
 
Then the wind loses its white lisp of a whistle and exhales horrible howls, like a rabid wolf’s cry—loud, prolonged, mournful. It rattles the frightened windows,
those transparent frames that see it all, yet vulnerable as crinkled veins—frail, flimsy, frangible.
 
Then in a clash-clank-crash the gale clangs the terra cotta tiles. It backbends the ribbon palms into aching green arcs. Suddenly, the whitewash rain slants sideways 
like a slippery, putty-colored, sidewinding rattlesnake, always furious as the now dangerous streets swirl in white-capped waters. Going wherever its wetness wants.
 
Amidst the splatters and howls, the power flicks on and off like an unlucky birthday surprise. But sometimes power, like faith, will stay steady. And the house holds up to its coded promises while the storm rainwater keeps searching in the saturated streets, across drenched driveways, then starts to flood our startled lanai.
 
Everywhere is home to a hurricane.

 

 

 

 

I Imagine You in Greenland

Well-versed in how to survive new ice,
you fished and sealed like before
on the mainland.
 
The seafaring horned men 
tired of gray conquest, left 
their scattered ruins, 
and sailed warmer
 
far-flung seas to people 
easier climes and to pillage 
brighter treasure.
 
And now, they war against their own.
No one left unlike enough
to plunder.
 
They level vast dwellings.
Set new fires that can’t
be doused by tears
 
or rising seas. They poison
the world’s bread. But you 
just wait.  Remember
 
the old ways. Your language.
The sacred place 
you call home.
 
How someday, that name
again will mean just
what it says.

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

Hot Mess

The headlines read: California buckles up for dangerous heat/California heat wave smashes records as hottest day approaches/Intense heat wave continues in Fresno and the Valley.

In the heat of an unbearable August 2022 night, I wade in a pool of my own sweat–crafting stream-of-consciousness lists of things I like better than California’s sweltering 114-degree heat wave–this one threatening to scorch my senses.  

  • Hotdogs.
  • Wearing hot pants in the 1960s.
  • A short-lived series of hot flashes back in the 1990s signaling the end of childbearing years, baby showers, breastfeeding, diapers, and sleep deprivation.
  • Still being called “hot mama” by my kids.
  • Piping hot water for chamomile tea laced with honey.
  • Finding myself in hot water after telling an ex-employer to drop dead and go to hell.
  • Billy Wilder’s 1959 classic American romantic comedy movie Some Like It Hot.
  • Hot dates.
  • More hot dates.
  • A local weatherman and wannabe comedian boasting “cloudy today, hot tamale” during his five o’clock forecast.
  • Regurgitating obscure facts while on the hot seat of a wild debate with my once-upon-a-time, know-it-all mother-in-law.
  • The lyrical sound of hotsy-totsy and hoity-toity.
  • Even more hot dates.
  • Feeling hot to trot and ready to embark upon new travel adventures: seeing the pyramids, traipsing the back streets of Paris, visiting my homeland, Armenia.
  • Steam rising from a hot bath (Note: different than finding oneself in hot water).
  • That anxious, antsy, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof sensation right before something unexpected finds its way into my heart.
  • Feeling hot and bothered after the third rejection letter.
  • Seeing my debut memoir hot off the press. Hoping it sells like hotcakes.

 

 

 

 

The Dead of Winter in Minnesota

The snow and ice persist,
spread sideways, fill frozen frames
that surround these shuttered windows.
Silence. Stillness.
Other seasons sprint at lightning speed. 
In spring, rivers 
launch their marathon run, rush past
white-bellied mergansers 
folding over like cream-filled pitchers.
Bulging buds shiver, 
awaiting their moment in 
spring’s talent show.
The summer sun scissors an arc across the sky
shooting crimson spears across winking waves.
In fall, I hold my breath. 
Each orange-and-gold leaf elicits equal measures of ecstasy and despair.
I feel alive in fall.
Winter has its moments, when the first snow falls
with its topping of white, as sensuous as meringue,
as fresh as clean sheets.
But then the snow turns mean, congeals,
and the ice is full of threat,
a menace that moves me inside.
I doze at my desk,
dream of peonies with
their chorus line of gossamer gowns.
I start awake, the pock-marked 
snow still stuck
beneath my window.
Winter is tired too,
ready to float away 
on the warm arms of the wind.
My head wobbles toward my chest.
Wake me when the robins sing.

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

Friday Night Twisters

Weekend farmers, this Friday evening Dean and I need to get to the greenhouse pronto.  Violent storms on their way. Dean checks online: warnings for one county west of us. Onward to the greenhouse to pick up a few plants for the Saturday morning farmers’ market.

Now the radio reports a tornado sighted in the county southwest of ours. Probably thirty minutes from us. The earlier rains had the ground soaked already, so we park the cargo van just past the barn on gravel. Quickly walk up the hill, gathering armfuls of plants, each making three trips back and forth. Our last trip back to the van, the sky is an eerie green with a black cell in the middle. Lightning bolts flash bright; the heavy rain starts. The van radio tells us a tornado warning has been issued for our county; a tornado is in Defiance. Where we are! Guarantee that black cell above is the twister!  

We are in a rush; the van slides off the gravel road into the slippery clay mud, just inches from the rushing creek!  Dean tries pulling forward. We are stuck. We try wood planks and prayer. Not moving, especially when Dean locks the keys in the van. Thank God the engine was turned off! We take shelter in the barn and find the radio. Flash flood warnings come over the weather band station. 

We call our son-in-law; Mick gets to us within a few minutes, bringing our spare key. Dean rocks the van back and forth, shifting into reverse, then forward. Mick and I push with all our might. A wood plank shoots back and hits my ankle. Bruised, swollen, and sore, but no cut. Rocking back and forth for ten minutes, the van is finally out of the muddy mess onto the gravel road. Shovels put away, barn lights off, we all manage to cross the creek to the safety of a paved county highway. 

Reports on the radio now of a huge tornado touching down in nearby towns, wiping out multiple houses. Cannot help thinking we were stuck in the mud to avoid being in its path. A muddy mess and sore, we three are safe in our houses tonight. Grateful we are kept safe amidst the storm. 

Jump a few years, another Friday night twister touching down just yards from our greenhouse, leveling homes, barns, and outbuildings in a three-mile stretch of the county highway. Sadly, one fatality. Farmer Chuck explains the hole in his barn door, “I cant imagine the power needed to pick up the huge oak beam and throw it like a spear across the road, through the trees, and into the barn door.” This beam was hurtled across the highway from one farm to another.  

But our greenhouse still stands, untouched. Mother Nature’s temper tantrum disrupts this rural community much like our granddaughter’s protest for her second COVID vaccine. Wasn’t one enough? 

 

 

 

 

Weather reports

snow sleet wind chill
heart fishtailing like a car
 
swirling funnel of air
freight train going up your back
 
ocean kicking up its feet
a mama lion in your throat
 
grandma lucy
listening to radio catastrophes
places she can barely imagine
her sixth-grade hands
sewing sequins on sweaters
amidst the lava and the ash

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

In the Bleak Midwinter

When I lived in wintry, cold Indiana, Mom would taunt me on the phone: “The trees on the parking strip are in full bloom. Pink blossoms everywhere.” I envisioned her standing in front of the big-paned windows in her living room, looking down on the flushed beauty of the flowering trees. It was late February. In Indiana, I was still checking the weather each night to see if snow would block my long commute to work. Even if it was dry, icy winds would wrap themselves around me whenever I stepped outside.  I was glad Mom got the joy of the blossoms in her last, semi-housebound years.

I’d like to believe that by this point in her long life, Mom understood that my husband and I had made the decisions we did out of necessity, not some kind of nasty wish to leave the idyllic greenery and family bosom of my native Seattle. We moved around the country for my husband’s academic jobs and spent snowy winters in Eastern Oregon and Montana and Utah and Colorado, finally landing in Indiana.

My brother didn’t leave Seattle; my sister did for a few years but came back. I was the only one who moved away.

 As they aged, my folks traveled less and less. Even though the apple trees in my big Indiana backyard were in full bloom when they visited for a few days in a long-ago gentle May, they never had the energy to come back.

After Dad died, I checked in with Mom daily. Weekdays, I’d drive an hour up I-69 getting home from work. If the roads were good enough, I’d use that time to call. In the spring and summer, the trees lining the route were leafy green; in fall, they did the Midwest change-to-gold thing. I never shared my descriptions of them with Mom, especially in the winter as I drove past them, leafless and barren. 

The January after I retired, I slipped on the ice outside our garage, fell flat on my back, and tore my rotator cuff. Mom was gone by then, but of course, she wouldn’t have said “I told you Indiana was no place to live!” Probably would have thought it though; and I decided for sure I wasn’t going to spend the rest of my life missing the mild Northwest winters.

She would have been overjoyed to know that my husband acquiesced; we moved back near Seattle a couple of years later. So now, it’s only the end of January, and I walk out into my little courtyard. No flowering trees yet, but already the tiny white blossoms of snowbells are blooming, and last year’s chives push through the soil, so I can add their gentle onionness to an omelet for dinner.

 

 

 

 

But That Wasn’t It

It wasn’t a question of the wind, which was blowing continually. Weather is a skin to every day, and we don’t ignore it. But that wasn’t it, the way she felt puzzled and transparent. Nor was it the comic question of the antic cat, who, though he was heavy, had been up on an impossibly high and difficult to reach cabinet earlier in the day. Maybe he’d jumped down from the loft railing, a perilous jump. That seemed unlikely. As did so many things that daily made themselves ordinary. News hammering rumor into every skull.  Or the dandelion yellow of yolks.  As she whipped the eggs into a froth, she thought life blends velocity and entropy into a daily stew made of hurry and moments stretched thin as spider web. Structure looks so yellow, so old news, and then ha ha shows a flash of its quantum underbelly. Black holes barking faintly? Blood between the lyrics? Or just the fervent reach of blooms toothed mouth, always imminent? She caught herself about to trip on the kitchen stool and swore, then laughed. The world does not comply. At that very moment the crow with the injured foot arrived at the back fence, looking for a handout. She saw the black flash from the kitchen window. While she wondered if there could be a logarithm that would tell you how many dishes you had done in your life or how many times you’d tried to do three things at once and then fallen off the edge of the current world, she went to the fridge and took out cheese to chunk up for the crow.  No other comfort quite resembles the simple exchange of support between species. Cousins so many times removed. It’s a story we love to tell but can’t quite feel the real fur or scales of any more, how we all came out of the same sea, discovered the same cave, ran hungry through the same woods, felt joy when we saw the tiny hands or paws or hooves of our progeny. And not just the mammals—what about the birds? As for the trees, who knows how they think? How their pale blood calls to ours. The universe of bloom, the hands of history gone back beyond—they’re broad. She takes the cheese outside, and the crow sidles toward her, eye glinting curious. Even the glaciers, who have known how to grow and can change their nature utterly, becoming water, have a song they sing.

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

Sing or Die



It’s sixty degrees 
in January. Janus reveals 
his two faces:
winter/spring, beginnings/endings.
The sky, 
a seamless blue but for two fat clouds, 
streams past the past. 
Last night
when the Wolf Moon howled 
I woke to troubled dreams. 
Now the sky 
is not only sky, but omen, 
a scrim Cassandra 
looks through, knowing her predictions 
must always go unheeded.
 
I remind myself 
to greet each moment as it arises.
To notice is only 
the first step. To speak is the second.
Then to do—but what?
How lost 
we humans act, or are.
And yet 
each morning I wake 
mostly happy to be here, 
to drink hot tea and watch 
birds splash in the bath,
talk to someone I love.
A mockingbird 
lands on a bare branch,
tilts its head: 
sing or die



 

 

 

 

Cockeyed Climate

I have lived in New England all my life. These days I make my home in Northampton, a small city located in “the Valley,” as it is colloquially named, in western Massachusetts.

On an unseasonably balmy day a year ago, sometime close to Thanksgiving, I decided to take advantage of the unexpected opportunity to enjoy the sun’s warmth. Heading out to my patio to relax on the chaise longue yet to be stored in the garage for the winter season, I discovered that the two-year-old clematis vine, twining around the wooden trellis at the edge of the pavers, was ablaze in sky-blue blossoms. Attempting to make sense of my ambivalent response, I wrote this tanka.
 

Clematis climbing:
cerulean blossoms reach
toward summer warmth
this breezy November noon.
Season blunder offers cheer.

 

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

Hurricane Season in New Jersey

A little black t-shirt, capris, tank tops, a bikini, and great gaucho sandals. My hobo bag looked like Santa’s sack as I filled it up for a four-day weekend at the Jersey Shore. It was just what this Phoenix gal needed, a reprieve from the scorching Southwest summer inferno.

“Pack light, dress casual,” Brenda said. “If you need something you can borrow it from me, it’ll be just like college.” An escape to the yellow sandy beaches and open-air bars along the Jersey coast sounded amazing. Maybe I’d even get a sighting of Springsteen or Bon Jovi in Asbury Park. I could feel my hectic work schedule stress dripping away like the sweat on my face as I entered Sky Harbor Airport. Little did I suspect that hurricane Morris had his evil eye on the East Coast.

Five hours later, Brenda picked me up with a yellow rain slicker in her hand. She said, “Put this on, you’ll need it.” As a fashion accessory it wasn’t flattering, but I followed orders and we headed for her shore home. The Southwest is immune to such weather events. I was used to the relentless summer heat and our annual El Nino, but a full-scale hurricane was downright scary. Wild winds, torrential rain, and huge waves were pounding the shore. I was guaranteed a “hot” nightlife and gorgeous sun-tanned men, but that’s not the scene I got.

I took up Brenda’s clothes-sharing offer, but not for trendy outfits. It was hoodies and jeans for the next few days. “What happened to beach weather, tans, and cool guys?”  Brenda shrugged, “I swear we’ve had a whole summer of sunny skies and no rain.”  That didn’t make me feel better, in fact it made me feel worse!

So we spent the next few days catching up on old times, watching TV movies, and wolfing down clams and beer at seafood eateries. In desperation for something to do Brenda said, “Let’s find old boyfriends on Facebook.” When it came to contacting them, we chickened out. All the cute ones had posts about their kids or family vacations.

By the time Hurricane Morris finally moved on to disrupt another place, Brenda and I were driving up the Garden State Parkway to Newark International Airport. “Promise me you’ll come back next year when it’s not hurricane season.” I gave her a look that didn’t need translation and we burst out laughing.

 As we hugged good-bye at the curbside, a gentle breeze brushed through Brenda’s hair revealing flecks of natural highlights. “Where are my highlights?” I muttered to myself. Hurricane Morris was now pummeling New England, and summer was back. But its return to the Jersey Shore was too late for me. Most of my holiday wardrobe was untouched, having been replaced with borrowed hang-out clothes.  I was flying home to Arizona, and all I could think of was soggy sweats and forced isolation. I asked myself, “WTF is it with this weather?”

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Cactus Celebrates Easter

What strange notions make you
open your clenched fist on this Ascension
Day? We gave you up for dead,
confined in clay, neglected on a shelf,
arid earth trapping your prickly arms
waiting for December’s darkness to expose 
your coral fingers.
 
What message should I read
in the palm of your outstretched hand
that holds a single purple thread
rising from a tuft of yellow hair?
When spring comes alive 
you should be sleeping. Your drooping limbs
should make me wonder whether
you will ever see another year.
 
Instead, as Eastertide ends you fool
your body into living. I thought I understood
about the seasons. Now I watch your
unexpected life spring from the earth
without my reason.

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

Tree Hugger

My therapist told me to take back my own story. Celebrate in the face of adversity. Like what, I wondered? Run in the rain? Splash in puddles? Notice commonplace stuff—the warmth of the sun on my face; breeze in my hair; a hummingbird hovering nearby, its long, delicate beak extracting nectar from an amethyst foxglove blossom? I don’t think I’m cut out for that.

A red maple stood before me. Huge and strong, blanketed in vermilion leaves. I laid a palm on its silvery bark. Leaned in. It held me. Did so willingly without even a hint of bending, dodging, turning its back on me. 

I looked beyond its deep-red leaves into the cerulean sky overhead. Felt the vastness of this world, marveled at the beauty, aware of my infinitesimal, atom-size self in an immeasurable universe.

In summer, the tree’s leaves turned green. I complained about sweltering heat. Sat with my back against the trunk, taking refuge in the shade. Hugged my knees to my chest, never glancing at the book that lay open by my side.

Autumn leaves changed color: yellow, red, orange. Shedding, they gathered on the ground, a harbinger of cold, dark days to come. 

In winter I grumbled about sleet and snow, freezing fingers and toes. The maple’s bare limbs, darkened by weather, in bright December sun were excruciatingly beautiful.

It’s hard for me to reconcile the immensity of my feelings of importance, my grasping, yearning, striving, with my undeniable insignificance. The importance I place on everything—running out of shampoo, arriving late for an appointment, craving a latte. I desperately want to get that acceptance letter. I berate myself for saying something stupid. Shame, desires, aspirations are relentless.

The tree doesn’t care. Doesn’t notice if I’m bouncing on the balls of my feet with delight on a perfect spring day or if tears stream down, threatening to freeze on my cheeks in winter. If I’m brooding, ruminating with regret, fear, loss. Wallowing in self-doubt, whining about some petty perceived injustice. It remains.

It accepts rhythmic seasonal change graciously, unyielding to powers of nature, random storms, fierce weather. Forces that would level me. It endures. 

I wonder if I should tell my therapist. Applaud his sage advice. Tell him about my tree. That it is wise. And I have a lot to learn. 

I place both palms flat against the bark. Feel the tree’s strength, enormity, magnificence. I resist the urge to name it, to anthropomorphize it. I press my body against its trunk. Wrap my arms around its massive girth. 

I laugh, picturing myself one of those T-Rex memes, stubby little arms barely making a dent. I laugh realizing I’m a tree hugger. I laugh for no reason at all.

 

 

 

 

Walking Hibernation in the Anthropocene

        “Yes, the extinction tables show a mounting tally, and yet there is still the hoot of owls in the evening,” Bill Mckibben, The New Yorker, April 2022

We mull spring’s eruption, how it blew 
in like an exaggerated sneeze 
from a nose full of pollen. 
Syrup chugs through blue tubes, 
ubiquitous to our hollow––
limbo lines for deer.
 
Icicles drip, drip, drip. 
Brooks, waterfalls crash and tumble.
Mud squishes and squirts 
beneath rubber boots, seeps 
into every cranny, follows us home—
impossible to clean. 
 
From the window we watch a bear amble 
out of the woods, across the meadow,  
toward the house. She claws at bird feeders 
and compost, overturns garbage pails, 
scratches the screen door. 
 
Hungry and prickly, desperate 
to feed her cubs, she cannot 
wait for berries and buds 
yet to bloom. 
 
We liken the bear to the enemy 
in fairy tales and war stories, the aggressor, 
though it’s we who encroach, provoke fires 
and floods, spin nature’s rituals out of sync 
while she struggles. 
 
But now melodies waft
through the hollow, caressing
the bear’s upturned face––
already the noisiest of springs,
peepers, crickets, and frogs
still find reason to begin
their seasonal symphony.

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

Weather…or not

Wind whips around our weeping cherry tree, a tree already attacked by fungus that has been boring into the base. Now these strange new blasts bear down on it. The arborist warns the tree will soon be unstable. I weep for the birds that roost in its slender limbs, for the squirrels that scurry up and down its weakened trunk in their endless games of tag. I will miss the fragile pink veil that appears every spring.
 
Easter in Hollidaysburg will always be in April. Never mind the liturgical calendar. In the soft breeze, the daffodils danced at the edge of the beds bordering the front walk where my sister and I posed for pictures. Little girls in pearl grey suits, white ankle socks, shiny black shoes. Now, Easter can feel like February or July. We could be shoveling snow or seeking shade under the bur oak that shouldn’t even be in leaf yet.
 
Apples are available all winter now. What happened to apple season? What happened to the months with only red delicious in the bins, and we just left them there. Now all year long we see Pink Lady, Honey Crisp, even Stayman Winesap, which used to be local only to eastern seaboard, and then only for a month or two. How are growers doing this? 
 
Tornadoes tore a trail through South Jersey farms and up into the Philadelphia suburbs. They flattened a new development and demolished a family farm that had served up fresh produce for generations. One lone silo was left behind. The cats and I had cowered under the hall stairs as the monster moved past just a few miles northeast of us. Tornadoes are not just in Kansas anymore.
 
Hurricane warnings were rare in Hollidaysburg. Maybe once in late summer the local Channel 6 newscast from Johnstown would make our parents worry. I remember once biking home from the swimming pool, pedaling fast because the wind had kicked up and it had started to sprinkle. But that was it. Hollidaysburg had no battered shoreline, no thrashing harbor, no palm trees bending in the wind. The names sometimes didn’t get to the middle of the alphabet. Now hurricanes happen everywhere all the time. The names run out of the Roman alphabet and start in on the Greek. 
 
England, that green and pleasant land, is now not so green or pleasant. Floods stall train lines from Stowe-on-the-Wold into Oxford. Offices in London close through lengthy heatwaves. No air-conditioning. Verdant fields now vacant. We haven’t been back in years. Maybe we should just leave our memories alone.
 
Rain comes down not in sheets but in heavy suffocating blankets. A stream cascades down the brick steps to the patio, already ankle-deep in water. The newly-planted roses would be water-logged, if they hadn’t already been scorched by the preceding ten days of 102° temperatures. We give up.

 

 

 

 

Humid All Day In The Desert

Same clouds still there at sunrise.
The adjectives slept fitfully.
They couldn’t quite wake up
Or propel themselves as usual.
They’d lost their lust for nouns.
 
Adverbs sat up slowly and lay back down
In damp sheets. If anything happened
There would be no how, where, when or why,
And no degree but that on the thermometer.
 
Nouns and verbs never showed up for work.
Probably under a bridge downtown drinking
In a parallelogram of shade,
Wet inside, wet outside, wet all around.
 
A rabbi on TV recommended six-second
Kisses, which seemed lengthy on a day like this.
Meeting and parting, he said, were always crucial.
He couldn’t imagine El Paso in August.

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

Snow Panic

“I can tell you one thing, I am NOT shoveling snow for the rest of my life,” my 74-year-old wife declares, as she stomps her waterproof boots on the back steps. 

 

Checking on her earlier, I chuckle, wanting to capture the image on my iPhone: two inches of snow piled around the brim and on top of her hat. I picture a bright red cardinal making a soft landing. Cardinals aren’t indigenous to our area, and I’m certain the humor will be lost on her. 

Face flushed, nose dripping, soaked through with sweat and melting snow, she is loaded for bear. Here I am, warm as toast, working away at my writing desk. Fluffy snowflakes drift down, accumulate on our 20-year-old pines, and I was thinking about baking a batch of her favorite oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, as a reward for her hard work. My dreamy snow globe spell is broken. 

What did she say? I try not to panic.

Maybe she just means shes going to hire the work done from now on. 

Surely, she doesnt mean shes done/done, as in, she wants to move, leave this place we moved to only two years ago. 

Our third winter here, it’s the worst so far. In fact, the snowstorm of the century. A series of back-to-back bomb cyclones and atmospheric rivers off the Pacific, sufficient, at our elevation, to create a snow wall on our front lawn taller than she is, she points out, all of which she shoveled and blew, sometimes two or three times a day.

Be aware–-my wife is not fragile. A 4.5 level Pickleball player, guys half her age invite her to team up for tournaments. After five straight hours of play, women her daughter’s age bow out. Others ask for lessons. Her millennial grandsons call their Nana a badass. When two separate male neighbors offer to help with the snow shoveling, she internally scoffs, but politely declines. Clearly, today? She has had it.

A thought avalanche crashes inside my freaked-out brain. 

If we moved, where would we go? We cant go back to the triple-digit, scorching summers of Central California; the reason we left our home of over four decades in the first place. We cant move to yet another state, even farther away from our old friends and adult children. We cant afford the California coast. Well, we can, but do we want a jumbo mortgage at these interest rates, at our age? What about rising sea levels, mud slides, and tsunamis?  

I stop, take a deep breath, say, “I know,” and help her shed her sopping wet clothes. 

That night I dream of moving boxes, moving vans, packing tape and bubble wrap. When we wake and peer outside, there’s a fresh six-inch layer of powder. Over coffee, we read the weather forecast: more snow to come.

“Do you want me to call the snow removal guy?” I ask. 

“No, I’ll do it. It’s good exercise.” 

The sun is out…today.

 

 

 

 

Conversation with a White Goat

You nibble dry grass alone in a neighbor’s yard, my presence
of no interest to you, your hair wired in all directions, a hint 
of red across your crown. I once created a weaving of your 
style of fibers mixed with sheep, dog, and alpaca wools, to 
form a textured moonscape that hangs in a mountain cabin.
 
The forest service brought a dozen goats of your breed 
to eat parched grasses, dried mustard, and wild lupine 
on the hillside above our town, but fire razed the forest 
so swiftly the goatherd couldn’t gather them to safety.  
 
Still, I wonder the meaning when you appear in my dream, 
as you calmly glean scrub from a summer-yellowed pasture, 
as I prepare to move to another city, as I sort the salvageable 
from the discard. My loom and fibers remain stored, soon 
to be reclaimed, but not the silk dress of luminous peonies 
in gold and pinks, worn only at my niece’s wedding.  
Her marriage didn’t last, its remnants ashes 
in their fireplace.

 

 


From Rain Change, photographs by Sally Buffington

 

 

Climate Experts Know Their Stuff

Nineteen Sixty-Nine was not only Woodstock, the Moon Walk, and my high school graduation. There was also the massive snowstorm that dropped several feet of snow on the Long Island street where I lived, giving my friends and me these gifts: the opportunity to shriek and whoop wildly in the middle of the road; go sledding down hilly neighborhood thoroughfares; and be even more hidden in our secret place. Under the abandoned stone bridge, we smoked a joint, roared with gleeful laughter, and loved the snow even more. 

In 1983 a similarly deep, brilliant snowstorm fell on the New York area. I was living in Manhattan in a boyfriend’s apartment on East 64th Street. We had gone across town to eat out near Lincoln Center and were stunned by what had taken place by the time we left the restaurant. 

Even though buses were running on Broadway, we decided that getting back across the Park and over to First Avenue wasn’t going to happen. Already the sidewalks were covered as we began our trek uptown to 110th Street, where my apartment overlooked the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. 

At the next corner a bus pulled over. We nodded at each other and, after I almost slipped in a puddle of slush, D held my hand and we got on the bus. It was crowded with folks having the same idea, but we created room in which to stand. The bus crept along and, as the snow hit the windows, dripping down like rain, we were glad for the driver’s cautiousness.

Arriving at the corner of Broadway and 110th Street, it seemed as if another massive layer of snow had fallen in the hour it took to go forty-five blocks. Holding onto each other, D and I pushed through the cold whiteness that reached his knees and my thighs. By the time we got to my building, the lobby mirror reflected our smiling apple-red cheeks and woolen hats and jackets shiny with moisture. We ran from the elevator into the apartment, stripped off our clothes and made warming love!

Of course it’s snowed heavily between 1983 and now, but nothing like the storms I remember. Sure, it could be that my memory is selective. When I became a full-time employee and mother, snow lost a lot of its beauty and became more of a hassle. Now that I’m retired, I long for snowfalls the way they used to be. But as of the end of January, sadly, the season remained without snow.

In an article I read about changing weather patterns, an “expert” was quoted as saying, “Just wait until February. That’s the snowiest month.” The article provided examples of winters that were snowless until February, when blizzards hit and cities and towns were brought to a standstill. So we know it was no coincidence that New York’s first snowstorm of the season happened on the penultimate day of February! Yay!? 

 

 

 

 

The Cold

The cold could be so beautiful
But it doesn’t seem that way
To the old lady, who picks her way down the gravel path
To her car, trying to miss the frozen puddles,
But finds one anyway. Now lying halfway on a bush
 
She bends her ankles, they hurt but still work
To carry her. She pulls herself up slowly
On a fence, inches herself painfully
To the car, opens the door and gets in, sighing.
She rubs a hand across a wrinkled cheek.
 
She’s forgotten the flash of frenzied glee
Playing crack-the-whip on the pond, flying off into the woods,
Landing unscathed and laughing in a snowdrift,
The air then so sharp and bright
It crackled in her chest like stars.

 

 


From Rain Change, a suite of photographs by Sally Buffington
Living in coastal southern California, a place that has long known drought, I marvel at rain when it does fall. Afterwards, I wander my neighborhood, noting the water left behind and how it holds light, sparkling out even from cement and asphalt. 
 
Succulents like deep plum aeonium are precisely dotted; agave serves up water on pointed spoon-like blades; and shallow ponds of decomposing leaves reflect the hue of Emily Dickinson’s eyes, “Like the sherry in the glass, that the guest leaves.” 
 
Oh, how the water magnifies, glorifies, earth and leaves and twigs—and trees in reflected spheres. All inspire a kind of surface tension on my mind; my thoughts bloom. Drops and droplets, puddles and pools, lead me on to yet more rain-change, all revealing “something rich and strange.” 

 

— On Rain Changes by Sally Buffington

 
 

 

Journey to Everland Bay
by Lynne Shaner
    Jemma Avalon is an unconventional mage-in-training, longing to return to Everland Bay, her ancestral homeland, and find a way to join the renowned magical research institute there, like the women in her family before her. Daughter of a gentle part elf-fae mother and a father with fiery dragon blood, an unusual combination even in the magical world, ten years after her mother's sudden death, she is working at a major museum in DC, where magic is all but outlawed. Her father wants her to assimilate and live without magic, but Jemma is determined to fully embrace her heritage. When an ordinary day at the museum takes an extraordinary turn, Jemma is rocketed to an Everland Bay Institute under violent siege, where dark-arts mages threaten everything important to her. She joins forces with her companions, working feverishly to save Everland Bay from crumbling under enemy attack. In so doing, she finds a path to her own strength and mastery, and her heart’s true home A Heroine’s Journey tale for our times. “A beautifully engaging fantasy teeming with dragons, fae, magic, and the importance of family and friendship. A joy to read from beginning to end.” — Julie Boglisch, The Elifer Chronicles
Available from Amazon and Bookshop.org.

Bios

WRITERS

Armen Bacon is the author of  Griefland – An Intimate Portrait of Love, Loss and Unlikely Friendship, and My Name is Armen (Volumes I & II). Her essays have appeared in Maria Shriver’s Architects of Change, Entropy, Brevity, and Streetlight Magazine. She is currently finishing her next book, Daring to Breathe.
Denise Beck-Clark has been a writer, thinker and artist since childhood. Though she retired as a social worker/psychotherapist, she is still mothering an adult son who is developmentally disabled. As an older person she has grown to love all weather and to wish she’d be around to see what happens to Earth! Go to ArtsMart to purchase her work.

Ann Birch, born in 1943, is a reference librarian in El Paso, Texas.  Her recent work has appeared in The Ocotillo Review, HerStry and Friends Journal.  A story is forthcoming in Funicular Magazine.

Martha Bordwell is a retired psychologist whose writing has appeared in MinnPost, Motherwell, Korean Quarterly, Of Rust and Glass, Amsterdam Quarterly, and Gyroscope Review. Her memoir, Missing Mothers,  interweaves her experience of losing her mother when she was six-years-old with her experience raising adopted children.

Phyllis Brotherton holds an MFA in Creative Writing. Her work appears in Under the Gum TreeEssay DailyBrevity Blog and elsewhere. She has received two Best of the Net nominations, and placed 3rd in Streetlight Magazine’s Essay/Memoir Contest. She lives in Reno, Nevada, where she watches for bears at the birdfeeder.

Anna Gall lives in historic St. Charles, Missouri, with her husband.  A human resource professional, she is fully engaged in writing, reading, antiquing, gardening, cooking, and culinary instruction at the local college.  A blogger for 11 years, her writings about everyday life are also found in eMerge, the online publication with The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow. Anna Gall’s Seashells poem is included in the anthology Dairy Hollow Echo, August 2021 edition.  She has contributed to Flapper Press and the Center For Creative Writing.  Currently, she is working on a collection of culinary-themed short stories.

Gail Ghai is a poet, workshop leader, Pushcart Prize nominee and author of three chapbooks of poetry. Her poems, vignettes and translations have appeared in Poet Lore, JAMA, Visions International, Minerva Rising, Descant and Shot Glass Journal. She is moderator of the Ringling Poets in Sarasota, FL.


Tobey Hiller is the author of a novel, four collections of poetry, and a book of fabulist short stories, Flight Advice: a fabulary. Her most recent book of poems is Crow Mind. Her award-winning poetry and prose can be found in a variety of magazines and journals.

Debra Kaufman is the author of the poetry collections God Shattered, Delicate Thefts, The Next Moment, and A Certain Light, as well as three chapbooks, many monologues and short plays, and five full-length plays. Recent poems appeared or are forthcoming in Poetry EastNorth Carolina Literary ReviewTar River Poetry, and The PhareDebrakaufman.info

Lois Kiely is a retired Monmouth University professor, public school English teacher, and artist. She has  won first place and Honorable Mention in the Phoenix Writers’  short story contest and has had pieces published in two anthologies (Chicken Soup for the Soul for Military Families and Dinner for Two).  She spends the warm months at the Jersey Shore and winters in Phoenix, Arizona. Lois serves on the boards of The Township of Ocean Historical Museum and the League of Women Voters of Monmouth County.

Journals publishing Janet McCann’s work include Kansas Quarterly, Parnassus, Nimrod, Sou'wester, America, Christian Century, Christianity and Literature, New York Quarterly, Tendril, and others. A 1989 NEA Creative Writing Fellowship winner, she taught at Texas A & M from 1969 until 2015, is now Professor Emerita. She has co-edited anthologies with David Craig, Odd Angles of Heaven (Shaw, 1994), Place of Passage (story line, 2000), and Poems of Francis And Clare (St. Anthony Messenger, 2004). She has written three poetry books and six chapbooks.   Her most recent poetry book: Life List (Wipf and Stock, 2021).  She lives in College Station, Texas with her dogs, Marple and Poirot.

Laurie Rosen is a lifelong New Englander. Her poetry has appeared in The Muddy River Poetry Review, The London Reader, Oddball Magazine, Zig-Zag Lit Mag, Gyroscope Review, Wilderness House Literary Review, The New Verse News and elsewhere.

Merryn Rutledge’s poems have appeared widely. A poetry collection is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. She enjoys teaching the craft of poetry, supporting fellow writers by reviewing their books, singing, dancing, and working for social justice causes. Writing is Merryn’s third career, after teaching literature, film studies, and creative writing at Phillips Exeter Academy, and then running a leadership development consulting firm. Merryn lives near Boston and the seashore, where long, horizon-filled walks feed her soul.

Roberta Schultz, author of Underscore and Songs from the Shaper’s Harp, is a songwriter, teacher, and poet from Wilder, KY. She writes some of her songs on a mountain in North Carolina. Go to ArtsMart to purchase her work.

Stephanie Shafran’s recent writing appears in literary journals such as Earth’s Daughters, Persimmon Tree, and Silkworm. Her chapbook Awakening was released in 2020, and her work can be found in the anthology, A 21st Century Plague: Pandemic Poetry. She resides in Northampton, Massachusetts; more at stephanieshafran.com.

Judith Shapiro spends half the year on the opposite coast, marveling that the sun that sets instead of rises over the ocean. When the novel she’s writing looks the other way, she secretly writes anything else. Her work appears in The Citron Review, Moss Piglet, The Sun and elsewhere. PeaceInEveryLeaf.com

After following an irregular career path, Kathryn Taylor retired in 2017 to focus on freelance editing and essay writing. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications. Her essay on corn, “Maize Madness,” was anthologized by Woodhall Press in Flash Nonfiction Food (2020). She lives outside Philadelphia.

Eileen Trauth, a retired college professor, is the author of Ordinary Time (Kelsay Books, 2023). Her work appears in The Boston Poet, Braided Way, Common ThreadsLoch Raven Review, The Orchards Poetry Journal, PoetryXHunger, Sheila-Na-Gig, and in several anthologies. She and her wife, Kathy, live in Cincinnati, Ohio. www.eileentrauth.com

Georgette Unis is the author of two books of poetry, Watercolors in the Desk Drawer (2022) and Tremors (2018,) published by Finishing Line Press. Several literary journals have also published her poetry, including Naugatuck River Review, San Pedro River Review, Southwestern American Literature, Ginosko Literary Review and Persimmon Tree.  She leads the Gold Country Writers poetry workshop and is a member of the Ravens poetry group. Go to ArtsMart to purchase her work.

Kresha Richman Warnock lives in the Pacific Northwest, with her husband. She is currently writing a memoir.  Her most recent essay to be published is in the Brevity Blog. For a complete list of her writings, go to her website kresharwarnock.com or follow her on Twitter #kresharwarnock.

windflower lives on the beautiful Mendocino Coast with her wife, border collie and mini Aussie.  She co-founded the Feminist Arts Program at the University of Massachusetts Women’s Center, where she published and edited, Chomo Uri, a women’s multi-arts magazine, and produced the first National Women’s Poetry Festival in 1976. Her poetry has been published in numerous journals and anthologies, including international publications. She is also a photographer celebrating the poetry in nature.


Jean Zorn is the publisher, with responsibility for Persimmon Tree's administrative, legal and financial matters. She is a lawyer, and retired in March 2018 from the City University of New York School of Law, where she had worked for more than 30 years, primarily as a Professor of Law, and, most recently, as Senior Associate Dean for Administration and Finance. In addition to her publishing duties, Jean edits Short Takes.

MUSICIAN

Gena Raps, Persimmon Tree Music Editor, has performed internationally and across the United States.  Her recordings of Mozart, Brahms, and Dvorak can be found on Musical Heritage Society, Arabesque and Naxos among others. She has taught at the Juilliard School, Sarah Lawrence College, and the Mannes College of Music and has received numerous prizes and honors. She has been on the jury for competitions at the Juilliard School and the Fulbright Fellowship.

ILLUSTRATOR

Sally Buffington is a writer and photographer and author of a memoir A Place Like This: Finding Myself In a Cape Cod House. She writes lyrically and imaginatively about food, place, books, nature, memory, and photography. To see more of her work, go to www.sallybuffington.com and purchase it through ArtsMart.

3 Comments

  1. I would love to see an issue of Persimmon that actually features aspiring writers who have not been published all over the place! Its great to be known but so many of the ladies I study with are discouraged when accomplished writers are in a magazine that proposes to encourage female writers over the bit hurdle of age! I was fortunate to get a comment printed in the Forum in another issue, but it would be nice to see someone’s “breakout moment” appear here!

  2. I would love to see an issue of Persimmon that actually features aspiring writers who have not been published all over the place! Its great to be known but so many of the ladies I study with are discouraged when accomplished writers are in a magazine that proposes to encourage female writers over the bit hurdle of age! I was fortunate to get a comment printed in the Forum in another issue, but it would be nice to see someone’s “breakout moment” appear here!

  3. Well I loved the title, and each of these short takes inspired by it. “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” as Macbeth’s witches knew! I n the theater it’s believed bad luck to say “Macbeth” out loud. Hell with that. Write on, short takers. These are all gems. xx, m

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