Short Takes

From Women of Joy, a suite of photographs by Merry Song

Pockets of Joy – Introduction

A wise woman – the sister of a Persimmon Tree editor – said to her long ago, “We can’t be happy every minute, but we can take pleasure in the pockets of joy that come our way.” As the beautifully joyful weavings of prose and poetry here attest, Persimmon Tree’s contributors – talented, creative and infinitely caring women over 60 – have not only experienced moments of joy, even in the midst of trial and sorrow, but can, for our sakes, turn those moments into art that will give us joy as well.
Come, experience joy with us!




Terminal Joy

It comes down to this:
the joys of still being, breath
steady, eyes bright—moment to
moment to moment.
Moments adding up
to hours, days, seven months
of joy at the miracle
of a still-shared life.
for John Dylan Pinegar
12.9.70 to 1.13.24






After the party he wants to share the joy.


“Where are you leading us, brother? It’s so damned cold…and dark…we’re only doing this because we love you…and it’s your birthday…listen to those waves…even up river they’re wild tonight….” The bitter wind penetrates the thin stuff of his shirt, the dress shirt he wore to their dad’s funeral, the last time they had all been in one place together.

He hears the mingled laughter and complaints as he leads his siblings and their partners to the place that had moved him so deeply. One night he had discovered it by chance. Now as they walk away from the glitz and the noise of the party, he remembers that kind of beauty you absorb through your skin and your gut: the sound of a leaping fish in the stillness, the thrum of oars as a canoeist passes; on this night, the opalescent moon casting its spell.

They are all in evening dress, his sisters in high-heeled shoes. His words are slightly slurred. He has drunk too much wine.

“You’ll love it…it’s worth the pain. You all know the rules. No pain…no gain…and you’ve had too much to drink…we all have… that’s why we need to clear our heads. Here, Mum, take my hand…this is your kind of place.”

Are we there yet?  They come to a standstill around him.

“Stop wingeing, you lot. Look! See! The glimmer of waves coming close …across the strip of land… and see there.”

The wind gusts in icy swirls. There is no light except from one or two mobiles. He moves on and they scramble after him along a narrow path between rocks and abutments of turf, to a strip of land that divides the waters of the bay. Waves rush in. They watch the moon coming out from the clouds with twin mirror images in the waters below, splintering into slivers of gold in coiling streams. They are mesmerized when, on the gnarly branch of an overhanging paperback, a cormorant suddenly appears, a moving black sculpture stretching its curved neck to dive. A fish leaps, in a maelstrom of moon-dappled light.

He remembers when they swam weightless in the river near their home, dived from tree branches, and rowed upstream in that long Canadian canoe of the Avon Descent fame.  Memories. How time slipped through their fingers.

We are all here, he thinks. This is a moment…and don’t we all know? You only have moments.

From Women of Joy, a suite of photographs by Merry Song



When Did We Become a Thing?

When did we become a thing? When
we started going out every Saturday night?
When we added another midweek night,
when we tucked in Fridays, too?
When we bought the house in Connecticut
with the money I got from selling my house
in Michigan?  When I lost my job and said
“I’m moving in,” and you welcomed me?
When we bought an apartment together
in Morningside Heights? When we sold
that apartment and bought in Brooklyn’s
Park Slope so I could be close
to my daughter’s newborn son? When
he started calling you Didi? When
we got your cancer diagnosis during Covid’s reign,
and married on my daughter’s deck in Brooklyn,
professing vows on zoom? When
I went with you for infusions,
and on the way home on January 6th,
heard the Capitol was invaded?
Then?  When?
When we hold each other all night long,
my arms wrapped around your chest,
my front against your back, my knees tucked
under yours? When does it get old? When?




Good Night

Several years ago, as we were spooning up to go to sleep—my mind still going over the day, the papers I’d graded, the students I’d spent time with, the plans for the next weeks in class, my kids away in college, Mom’s failing memory, and, as always, too wound up to turn off and fall asleep—my ever patient husband startled me with a demand: “Give me five gratefuls and the highlight of your day.”


Interesting, I thought, and set to it. Reflecting on my day, I began listing my five gratefuls; then, after some deliberation, the one that was the highlight. He then, on my insistence, shared his. Then I fell asleep.

He made his request again the next night. And the next. A couple decades later, it is now as integral a part of the end of each day as brushing our teeth.

One by one, I count off the five gratefuls with taps of my fingers on his arm. We alternate, back and forth; ONE, you and then me, TWO, you and then me, all the way to five. Sometimes he goes first, sometimes I. Then, the highlight of the five.

Rules have evolved over time. We can have the same highlights, but cannot repeat gratefuls. First come, first served. Also, my interpretation of the original request was that the gratefuls be from that very day. Some nights are tougher than others; we might have had a rough day, might be a bit disgruntled and even sarcastic. On those nights, I’ll allow him a more general, all-encompassing grateful, our home, a safe place to live, for example; but ever the rule follower, I encourage him to add “on this day.” I, on the other hand, force myself to find five and a highlight from this day.

On occasion, if we start nodding off without having said them, one of us (usually me) wakes up, “Wait, Wait, gratefuls and a highlight.” One, two, three, four, five, and a highlight. Then, gratefully, joyfully, off to sleep.

From Women of Joy, a suite of photographs by Merry Song




They say aging is hard.
Knees buckle and stab,
Eyes strain to read a menu at Olive Garden,
Checkout lady at Publix calls you “sweetie.”
There is also a suspension, a revelation.
Alligator eyes peering over the water,
Moonlight through the palm fronds,
Sweet slices of ginger in a jar.




Sunday Afternoon in Philadelphia

Laurie was launching her fifth book, and was holding the event at the school where she teaches. Laurie’s mother Libby, my friend of 50 years, had invited us to be her guests.


The three of us sat in the last row of folding chairs set up in the school’s multi-purpose room. At the front of the room Laurie stood behind a table. In between were rows of middle school kids – mostly girls – holding books in their laps, waving their hands, and pelting Laurie with questions.

“How do you think up your stories?’

“How long does it take to write a whole book?”

“Are any of your characters based on any of us?”

Laurie laughed, then invited her audience to come up to get their books autographed.

There was a mad dash to the front.

Libby beamed.

With a copy of Laurie’s book in my bag, we headed out the door into the spring sunshine. As we turned left down 23nd Street we heard a shout: “Kathy! Jon!” And there was Todd, daughter Annie’s dear friend from college. A pal since freshman week Outdoor Action and frequent visitor during school vacations. Since graduation, professional squash player for Team USA. We had last seen him in 2019 when we crossed paths in Lodon.

“Todd! What are you doing here?”

“I live in Philadelphia now. Off Rittenhouse Square.”

“Are you still playing?”

“This is my last year. I had to miss Annie’s wedding because I was at a tournament. But she told me all about the mother-in-law’s crazy weird toast.”

The three of us rolled our eyes, laughed and hugged, and promised that the next time Annie was home, he would come out for dinner.

Todd continued south and we went north for a walk. The breeze had become brisk and wispy white clouds flew across a cornflower blue sky, but the sun was still warm. At Spruce Street we stopped, drawn to the bright blocks of orange, red, yellow, and green painted on a corner stucco wall, and a sign that read Sally. The black board outside promised small plates and natural wine. It was only 4:30, but we couldn’t resist. The hostess with a bright smile and bare midriff tucked us into a protected outside picnic table. We were easily the oldest patrons by 30 years. Jon had the house ricotta; I had grilled prawns. We both drank a glass of a sparkling wine we couldn’t pronounce. And we watched urban life go by. Runners. Young parents with strollers. Women who knew how to wear scarves.

We drove home—west, into the sun—and found the light still streaming into our family room. We didn’t watch PBS NewsHour Weekend. We didn’t watch Call the Midwife. We didn’t watch Masterpiece Theatre. We sat on the couch, with Buddy the cat between us, and I read Laurie’s book until it was time to go to bed.

From Women of Joy, a suite of photographs by Merry Song



An Hour More with My Father

I gladly suffered the painful
installation of the silver
railroad tracks across my teeth
for the ice cream coupon
given by the dentist,
redeemable at the diner
across the way, the place
with red leather and chrome
stools that spun and
a waitress who called me hon.
It was a golden ticket
that gave me an hour more
with my father.
We would dash across the highway
between the whoosh of cars,
his suit coat billowing out behind him
like the cape I thought it was,
tie whipping over his shoulder,
a cigarette flashing at the end
of his outstretched hand.
Once he asked if we should get lunch.
Could I stay out of school a little longer?
The decision, of course, was his
but he made me part of the conspiracy
that brought us a quiet revelry
of chicken croquettes and
mashed potatoes covered in gravy.
My first cup of coffee.
Later I would seek in books
the company of other men in suits:
Hawthorne, Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald.
But my father remained the most alluring.
A half century later I see him still
smiling under the wreath of smoke,
placing a tip on the table,
winking at the waitress across the pale
yellow stars of the Formica counter.




Ode to Joy

Christmas caroling around the streetlamp. It was Christmas Eve, and I was ten.


When I was a child, our neighborhood was full of kids who got together each year on Christmas Eve and went door-to-door, ringing bells and singing carols.

Loudly, robustly, full of pride and joy and innocence.

No matter the age, voice, tempo, range; we sang out, together.

Sometimes we’d be presented cookies on a big Christmas plate. One memorable year, we were offered hot chocolate.

Of all my childhood Christmas Eves, I remember this one in particular. It was snowing, on snow. Big, fat, fanciful flakes, the size of my hand, or so it seemed.

After caroling home-to-home, we gathered under the single streetlamp to finish with our most heartfelt and earnest rendition of “O Holy Night.”

Lo and behold, a traveling group of jazz musicians joined us in what was surely a heavenly band for a heavenly moment—from where on earth could they have appeared?

On our little dead-end road, or cul-de-sac as we said in Ottawa; roads filled with knee-high snow.

Two trumpets, a sax, a flute.

They must have seen us. Heard us? Suddenly, there they were.

If that happened to me today, I’d cry with joy.

Back then, a child, I was mute with surprise – but only for a cold moment.

Then I lifted my chin and sang out, and rang out, with wonder.




House on the Hill






Small Moments

It’s the little things I remember most. The things we shared that were just ours.


Spring has arrived and the peepers have been chirping up a storm. I drive through the park and stop the car when I hear the racket—just like we always did. Twilight has turned to night, and I turn off the headlights and roll down the windows on both sides—just like we always did. I enjoy the chorus for a few minutes, and then I call out in a loud voice—just like we always did—PEEPERS!

On mornings when I don’t have a yoga class or workout, I make myself a pot of coffee and return to bed to read the news. I pile up the pillows and pull the covers around me. Then, I inhale the intoxicating scent of coffee and take my first, and best, sip. I look out to the morning light and watch the birds whoosh past my window on their way to the bird feeder. I listen to Peanut’s scratchy tongue as she takes her morning bath and then curls up beside me.

You are not there like you always were, sound asleep, turned towards me on your right side, arm tucked under your pillow, warmth coming off of you, me smiling to myself and thinking how perfect we are together.

I am grateful to have these memories and grateful I can conjure them up just by hearing the peepers at twilight or sitting in bed drinking coffee in the morning. It is less than perfect now, but if I close my eyes, I can hear your voice and feel your warmth, and you are still there.



The Afternoon You Danced in My Sunroom

It was midsummer, my first one back South, and I wondered
what the hell I was thinking?  Ninety-nine degrees plus humidity
outside, but you in your work clothes and socks, your
forever knee pads, sunglasses looped over your T-shirt.
You were having fun, Neil Diamond’s “Thank the Lord
for the Nighttime” on my Alexa. You sang as you gyrated,
twirled across the open room, an afternoon of freedom
from an old life. You spun, turned toward me and sang
along with Neil.
You danced away, then back, beckoned me to join as you
sang I thank the Lord for the night time/to forget
the day, yours drenched with sweat and toil, duty.
Those few times we danced, when you pulled me to you
and away from my politics as I tried to speak to a senator,
or when you grabbed me at a Friday night jam session
of male musician friends.
One evening, you let me lead the box step in the very sunroom
where you had your Arthur Murray debut. It was late winter.
This time, more focused, as if we might find a spot across the river
in Muscle Shoals, a club where we could pretend no one knew us,
where we could forget the day of uptight time/baby, chase
it away.
Jimbo, do you remember my laughter, my words, on the video?
Go Jimbo! This will make me happy when . . . 
I didn’t finish.
I think I meant
I look


From Women of Joy, a suite of photographs by Merry Song




I methodically prepared for the trip to my nephew’s college graduation. I booked my flight months in advance to get a reasonably priced ticket, put in my request for days off from my job in a timely manner, and spent weeks considering choices for his graduation gift. I was pleased when I settled on a one-year membership in a professional media association. It was a practical gift that could help him launch the career he aspired to in the television industry.


But after I flew into town and accompanied my sister, brother-in-law, and his family to the sports arena at George Mason University, I realized that there was one matter I hadn’t prepared for, and perhaps couldn’t prepare for. My emotions. I was thrilled that my nephew had reached this milestone, but I was in low spirits because his maternal grandparents—my parents—weren’t there.

Mom and Dad, who lived a six-hour car ride away from my sister and her family, were present for my nephew’s milestones from the day he was born, years of holiday gatherings and impromptu visits. They’d opened an account for his college education when he was an infant. But they didn’t live long enough to see him walk across the stage to get his diploma. They were elderly when they passed away. My sister and I took care of them during the last few months of their lives. I missed them dearly.

I was thinking of Mom and Dad as we sat in the nearly empty arena, waiting for the graduates to begin their processional. My heart was heavy. But I was jolted back into the present when the pep band, called The Green Machine, started to perform. My sister and family jumped to their feet. At first I thought they were moved by the propulsive horn section. But then they started pointing at someone in the band. I was incredulous. It was my nephew. In his cap and gown, he was with the band, dancing freestyle to the music of Beyoncé, striking a cowbell with a drumstick. He had been a member of The Green Machine when he was a student, but his time with them had ended because he was graduating.

Soon, I was on my feet too, pumping the air with my fists, dancing with abandon and marveling at my gregarious nephew, who stayed through several selections with the pep band and at one point grabbed the microphone and performed a rap he thought up on the spot. It was refreshing. He pulled me out of my grieving and brought joy to my heart. After the ceremony got under way, I continued to think about Mom and Dad, but in a celebratory way, celebrating their legacy, as he walked onstage, received his diploma, spun around and took a bow.




It wasn’t the castles, villas, or stone buildings
the pain au chocolat or the chocolate mousse;
the vegan cheeses or wine
the sweeping views of vineyards, forests, and fields;
the winding rivers, not even
the ancient cave paintings of the dotted horses.
It was the narrow country road cradled by trees,
the hidden slumbering stream on my left.
It was the crusty dirt hugging my feet
the older couple with their dog.
It was me asking quelle heure est-il?
his response, neuf, my merci.
It was the Bleu de France sky opening
to towering wilted corn tassels
A new kind of wildness running
through my veins tickling my bones.


From Women of Joy, a suite of photographs by Merry Song



Pockets of Joy

A typical San Francisco summer day: cold, foggy, without sun. The hospital appointment for a sonic thumping of my new liver shows better than last year. At year two, my number of daily pills is down to 21 from 45. I can walk a mile and have managed two miles slowly. On impulse I decide that a visit to the Rodins at the Legion of Honor is required. I have lived in San Francisco for 45 years and have visited them every year or two until the last few years. The Rodin sculptures offer something to capture my attention each time I visit. At thirty, newly married and in love, “The Kiss” with its entwined lovers enchanted me. At fifty, as the marriage crumbled, it was “The Fallen Angel” broken on a rock that needed several visits to comprehend. I visited at sixty as my love of practicing medicine was being eroded by the cash-register imperatives imposed by hospital management. I was deciding how long I could struggle until retirement. “The Burghers of Calais” trudging to their deaths to save their city from siege sent a message of empathetic understanding. For the last decade I sent in my annual membership fee, but did not visit as I retired, waited for Covid isolation to pass, then was undone by liver failure and a liver cancer. I checked off symptoms on the list of bad prognosis and waited for a liver donor with 500 on the waiting list. I weakened to the point where I could not walk from the parking lot into the museum. Two years ago was my re-birthday, as an unknown man died and passed on his liver. I have spent two years of slow rebuilding as I deal with side effects of medicines and viruses. But today, there was a blue space beside the walk and I could walk it. And they were there, as wonderful as remembered. “John the Baptist Preaching” striding forward, arm raised as he gathers in the faithful. “The Shades,” three massive men looking down from a plinth well above my head. I could teach anatomy class on their muscles. “Miss Eve Fairfax” dreams in creamy marble. The angel still lies across his rock and the Burghers still await their fate. Even the shadows each one casts are lovely and profound. The sculpture today that speaks most loudly of what I need to hear is “Christ and Mary Magdalen.” His hands are nailed to the stone from which He emerges, head hanging, face only suggested. Her body, undraped and sinuous, lies across His body, echoes posture with her arm across His shoulder, head against His chest. Shockingly erotic but necessary for the anguish and love Rodin has chiseled into marble as his repudiation of death. The guard looks at me carefully as I wipe away sudden tears and smile to reassure him, then find a bench to sit for a long while, thinking of the last few years. It is a sort of joy.




No Backup Plan

Google Maps showed 14 minutes left to my destination as I sat in my idling car, stuck in a snaking line heading toward the Starbucks drive-through. Since there was a half hour before my next appointment at YV Elementary School, a trip that was estimated to take 12 minutes, I’d promised myself that if I found a Starbucks on the way, I would stop.  I regretted my decision as soon as I pulled in, and four more cars got in line behind me.  The structure is deceiving since the line curves around the building, and you really can’t see how long it is.  Fourteen minutes stretched to 16 as I inched my way up behind a car which had decided to block a crossing in the parking lot. I waited for room behind her before I moved my car up. She was a young mother texting on her phone, with her child in the back seat.


At times the space between her car and the car in front of her grew to two car lengths. I refrained from honking, hoping she would come out of her screen trance and move up, which she eventually did. When at last she reached the ordering station, a long conversation ensued, including questions and answers, suggestions, and indecision. This went on for precious minutes.  I was at full seethe mode now, stuck between cars with an idiot driver in front of me and no way to back up or get out.

She had returned to texting, forgetting to move up again. Three of us honked at the same time, startling her. When she finally arrived at the pickup window, she decided to change her order.

Twenty minutes to my destination. What excuse could I give for being late? This bizarre truth would have to suffice.

Finally, decisions were reached, a credit card handed in through the window, returned with a receipt, and the driver drove off—without her drinks and pastries. The barista looked in disbelief. Soon she came zooming back in reverse, looking like she wouldn’t stop in time to avoid hitting me. I honked to make her aware she was inches from my bumper.

She picked up her drinks and pastries, and with little warning, was backing into me again, forgetting she was in reverse. I was no longer shy about honking as I blasted my horn. She stopped with no room to spare.

Finally, she sped off, and I drove to the window, card in hand to pay and retrieve my order. As I pulled up, I couldn’t help but vent to the barista, “What was going on with that driver ahead of me?”

I expected the barista to commiserate with me, but instead he held out one hand like a stop signal, and the other hand held my mocha. He said, “She paid for your drink.”

From Women of Joy, a suite of photographs by Merry Song



Pockets of Joy

When a woman tries on a dress or pants, her first instinct is to check for pockets. Are there any deep enough for a fist? Soft enough to be a comfort? Wide enough to hold car keys and a driver’s license?


Deep, wide, soft—what we want for the place we stow moments of joy. The bookmark my grandson made with early attempts at mastering scissors, coloring an owl’s head. How it slides into my mysteries and romances. The play bow of my rescue dog, who boots have kicked  and who bears scars from wounds around her eyes. The arresting scent of the deep purple lilacs that have been working toward blooms for many days of rain and opened today. The wood frogs that still jump into the pond’s stew of rotting leaves and duckweed—and, it being May, will mate. I brake for a rabbit crossing the road from the hay field to the second-growth woods. The French radishes have broken the surface of the soil.

Any one of these and all of them unwind my fists so my fingers cup inside of today’s pocket. I can’t make it to the memorial for my friend’s husband; it’s too far away, but every night I can breathe a meditation for her. I can walk beneath the lilac’s bloom.



When Seagulls Flew Backwards

Decades ago, I’m on the upper deck of the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard with my son, Adam, then age two, and a brown-and-white sort-of-spaniel named Betty. The breeze temporarily lifts Adam’s reddish hair, which is so straight that his bangs drop back onto his forehead, almost covering his eyes. He’s telling Betty not to be scared by the blast of the ferry’s horn.


Adam is wearing white Oshkosh overalls printed with topsy-turvy red and blue cars. He loves things that move, especially cars. Sometimes he stands in the driveway shouting their models as the cars pass by: Rabbit, Mustang, Cutlass. He likes cars as much as his Big Wheel.

Adam plays in our station wagon, jumping up and down in the driver’s seat, exuberantly steering away to nowhere. He helps wash the car, focusing on the tires. When he’s in kindergarten, a neighbor gives him his own galvanized pail and a car-washing sponge.

Adam is an early talker. He narrates his life as he lives it. His pre-school, the grocery store, a playdate—all enthusiastically reported. He talks himself to sleep, recapping his day. His voice rises at highlights, like lunch and dog kisses.

The horn blasts. Adam covers his ears. With a deep moan, the ferry chugs out of the harbor, the waves slopping against its sides. Passengers take photos of each other holding a baby or a beer or of a lighthouse in the distance. I have dozens of my versions of such photos. Through the years, on the same ferry, the background in mine remains the same, but the characters change—two more sons and new dogs added, a husband cropped out.

On the open water, the ferry picks up speed. Squawking seagulls circle, searching for morsels of hot dogs and Fritos, sometimes plucking them out of a passenger’s hand. The ferry moves faster and faster. Adam looks up. “The seagulls are flying backwards,” he says. For a sliver of a second I see what he sees. The ferry is not passing the seagulls. The seagulls are not falling behind. The seagulls are flying backwards.

After 45 minutes the ferry bobs up and down, groaning against the landing pier. The seagulls fly off to the mainland. I am sad because I suspect that as Adam gets older, he will lose his poet’s eye; his openness will be boxed up by facts. He will be told that pigs aren’t radiant and that he can’t touch the stars no matter how close they seem. His teachers, family, and friends will tell him what they consider to be true. I hope he doesn’t entirely believe them.

Now, decades later, Adam brings his wife and teenage children to the ponds and beaches where he learned to swim. He tells me that his son and buddies wait in line for fresh-out-of-the-oven donuts. And his daughter dances in the dark on a pier overlooking the ocean. They are the children of a boy who saw seagulls fly backwards.

From Women of Joy, a suite of photographs by Merry Song



The Princess Tree

1. We Meet
That tree along the highway hill on 52—those lavender blooms—bring me back to the bridge over Monet’s garden with strands of flowers hanging down overhead. But these reach up.
I wonder, then know
I will search the oracles
for the tree’s true name.
2. The Oracles Accuse
Wisteria, the oracle answers. Up pop so many links to lurid reports of runaway vines attacking trees like ominous invaders. Yet I know that is not what I’ve seen with my weary driver’s eyes. The trees that preen on 52 and at my favorite North Carolina rest stop strangle no one.
I search to find true
stories I can tell by heart:
trees do not invade.
3. The Story
Brought here in 1840 by humans hoping to cultivate those lavender blooms, the Princess Tree is declared invasive by the states of Ohio and North Carolina. Who gets to decide when a plant is native? Queen Anne’s Lace does not come from this continent, yet no one says it invades. Is that because those who carried it here were called settlers from Europe? Who gets to decide that a beautiful blooming tree from Asia brought here by gardeners wishing to plant more pockets of joy is invasive?
I want a truer
tongue to express such status.




The Party

The tremor in his thumb is new. He is dicing celery, carrots, and potatoes for Soul Soup. When the broth bubbles, he’ll add mounds of kale—his way of dosing me with the vitamin C and antioxidants I can no longer swallow in pill form.


It occurs to me to ask him to write down the recipe for posterity. From our soggy chenille couch I say, “When I’m gone, everyone will want to know how I lasted so long. You’ll have to give out the recipe at my funeral. Instead of Kaddish cards.”

“This,” I tell him, “is my prayer.” The tremor in his right thumb is worse when I talk like this.

The hospice nurse arrives, and before he takes my blood pressure, we convince him to taste the soup. I tell him, “You haven’t lived until you’ve had Arnie’s Soul Soup.”

“Bring it on!” says the nurse. He comes three times a week now, usually with Shadow, a therapy dog who sits by my side and curves herself into my ribs, absorbing all that’s too much for me to bear: my dread, my grief.

Before the nurse can ask, I say I’d give him the recipe if I could, that recipes are to be shared beyond where the leaves of the family tree fall. He touches my cheek and reminds me that he’ll see me in a few days. “It wouldn’t be a tragedy,” he jokes, “if there were more soup.”

After the nurse and Shadow leave, Arnie says, “I make the soup from memory. I don’t have a recipe.”

“Next time write it down as you go,” I say. “People will love you for it,” I say. “The funeral will be a hit.”

I remind him that my mother’s banana bread recipe saw us through her shiva. “Six nine-by-thirteen pans—not one crumb left!”

He remembers and adds, “We kept one plain. In two, we put chocolate chips. In another two, walnuts. One we loaded with chocolate chips, walnuts, M&M’s, and dried cranberries.” His voice is thinning. “We named that one The Party. Every bite, a celebration.”

The soup has energized me, and I push myself to leave the couch. I have this idea that Arnie and I should rescue our browning bananas and make my mother’s recipe. Summoning good cheer, or perhaps reaching for something that has eluded us these past few months, he says, “Yes! Let’s make The Party!”

Before we know it, the counter is covered in flour, sugar, butter. When we open the M&M’s, they spill relentlessly all over the floor, a green one here, a blue one there. We bend down to stop the spill. And we’re laughing—giggling, really. Sores be damned, we place them in our own and each other’s mouths and check our reflections in the oven glass to see that our teeth are speckled — red, yellow, all of it. Every bite, another moment. Every bite, a declaration.

From Women of Joy, a suite of photographs by Merry Song



At School You Get to Have Brestik

the five year old says. Not I have to go to school early,
my mom and dad have to work, poor me, I have to eat
an institutional breakfast. I like her point of view.
Me, I get to linger. Gaze out the window, gather kindling.
I get to decide which book today, lay my hands on one decade
or another,  get to find words bound in the long ago,
all the words free, the astonishment of it, what I
get to read. At night, I get to lay the fire. And meanwhile,
I get to age, I get to oil my knees, learn the design of joints,
a design older than I can imagine. I have to learn evil too,
there’s no help for it. All the same, I get to love you, girl child
of times I won’t see. And I get to hear you hit p’s and k’s,
with easy zest, bang at the end of your words.




A Dozen Ends I Would Not Regret

1. In the Spring my heart could stop under the lilac bush with hummingbirds darting about overhead, or by Karl’s roses if I tarry too long to inhale the heavenly fragrance.
2. If I fall and hit my head tying shiny flags onto the fig tree to keep the jays away, I could take my last breath lying in the dirt and laugh, wondering why the California poppy seeds never sprouted.
3. The brakes could fail on the way to Brim’s Garden Center—my car careening into the bay, where I would drown in the cold water with fishes swimming merrily by as though nothing were amiss.
4. I could have a fatal brain hemorrhage by the birdbath in the East garden—the one with Sartre’s Being and Nothingness I put there a few years ago for the birds to read as a joke.
5. I remember the balmy summer afternoon sitting on the garden bench between Cait and Liam when time stopped for a few breathless moments in harmony with the Universal pulse. I could have died then and there overjoyed with the Perfection.
6. I could look up into the heavens one morning, see the face of Father Lance filled with compassion, hear his welcoming words and surrender. “Come. Fear not.” [He’s been looking after my sister until I can get there.]
7. I could collapse from a massive stroke gazing into the sky watching my garden visitor, Jack the crow, fight off a huge raptor to protect the chicks in the nest of the tall fir. Olga can’t do it by herself.
8. My house could catch fire and I could die from smoke inhalation trying to save my dog. Toby would die in my arms. He would sneak me into heaven with him.
9. In my mind’s ear I could hear Eric’s perfect bass note that evening during a concert in Longview, or I could hear three-year-old Robin say, “Mama, I don’t want you to be throwed away” and just fall over dead, my maternal heart burst, love and joy spilling out.
10. I could freeze to death with Dale in his cabin in Alaska, where he tries to hide from the combat nightmares. His suffering no embrace could heal, though I’d try. [I’d finally know the two angels who visited me when I was five were us!]
11. While I was distracted tugging out the woody lavender, the  cougar spotted on Fourth Street could find me, pounce and tear out my throat before I knew what hit me.
12. I could even pass away in a dream, enthralled, waltzing through a vision of the millions of the luminous threads connecting me to all living things within my garden—and without.
Dancing Between the Raindrops: A Daughter’s Reflections on Love and Loss
by Lisa Braxton
  Dancing Between the Raindrops: A Daughter’s Reflections on Love and Loss, is a powerful meditation on grief, a deeply personal mosaic of a daughter’s remembrances of beautiful, challenging and heartbreaking moments of life with her family. It speaks to anyone who has lost a loved one and is trying to navigate the world without them while coming to terms with complicated emotions. Lisa Braxton’s parents died within two years of each other—her mother from ovarian cancer, her father from prostate cancer. While caring for her mother she was stunned to find out that she, herself, had a life-threatening illness—breast cancer. In this intimate, lyrical memoir-in-essays, Lisa Braxton takes us to the core of her loss and extends a lifeline of comfort to anyone who needs to be reminded that in their grief they are not alone. Dancing Between the Raindrops is a heartfelt homage to Braxton’s parents in the wake of their passing. She touches the soul of every adult child’s mourning in ways poignant, nostalgic, aching, and funny with a clever patchwork of writing styles. A must read!
— E. Dolores Johnson, author of Say I’m Dead, A Family Memoir of Race, Secrets and Love
  Available from Amazon and For more information see
One Small Step
Roberta Schultz
One Small Step is the latest recording by Roberta Schultz, who describes herself as a moon-influenced 20th Century singer/songwriter treading lightly on a spiritual soundscape of keys and strings. Cover artwork is by folk artist Jefferson Ross.
Go to her website,, to download songs, purchase the album and to see examples of her other work.



Beth Aviv's work has appeared in New Letters, Bellevue Literary Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, and Salon.  She teaches freshman writing at CUNY Baruch after many years teaching high school English and history.  Bearing Witness: Teaching about the Holocaust was published by Heinemann in 2001.
Syd Bartman spent thirty-eight rewarding years teaching English, literature, and creative writing at a community college in Southern California. Now retired, she enjoys having the time to focus on her writing.
Karina Bergen was born and raised in Ottawa, Canada. She moved to Hong Kong when she was 30; living abroad for 20 years, travelling through Asia, working with youth in movement and expressive arts, and having her son at 44 shaped who she is today: a coming into wisdom 60-year-old.
Lisa Braxton is the author of the award-winning memoir in essays, Dancing Between the Raindrops: A Daughter’s Reflections on Love and Loss, published in April 2024 and the novel, The Talking Drum. She is an Emmy nominated former TV journalist and is a writing instructor at Grub Street Boston.
Catharine Clark-Sayles is a physician who recently retired after forty years in practice. She completed her MFA in poetry and narrative medicine at Dominican University of California in 2019. Her first two books of poetry, One Breath and Lifeboat, were published by Tebot Bach Press. A chapbook, Brats, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her fourth book, The Telling, The Listening, was published in 2023 by Saint Julian Press.
Poems by Alice Duggan have appeared in Sleet Magazine, Water~Stone Review, Tar River Poetry, Alaska Quarterly Review, Poetry East, Nimrod, Sugar House, SAND, Poet Lore and elsewhere, as well as in a chapbook, A Brittle Thing, and an anthology, Home, from Holy Cow! Press. She is interested in dailiness, in colloquial speech, the rhythm of voices, and in telling stories.
Amanda Freymann describes herself as “a 72 year old widow living on a wooded dune at the tip of Lake Michigan with my one-eyed cat. I have been creating artwork and writing about loss and grief since my husband's cancer diagnosis in 2016 and his death in 2022.”
Evie Groch’s opinion pieces, humor, poems, short stories, and recipes have been published in the New York Times, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Contra Costa Times, Games Magazine, in various anthologies and online. Her themes are travel, languages, immigration and justice of which she writes in Half the Hurricanes.
Martha Ellen Johnson, a retired social worker, lives alone in an old Victorian house on a hill on the Oregon coast. Her poems and prose have been published in various journals and online forums.
Tricia Knoll is an aging Vermont poet who welcomed two new poetry books into publication in 2024. The Unknown Daughter has 27 persona poems who share their perspectives on a fictional Tomb of the Unknown Daughter. Wild Apples highlights downsizing and moving 3,003 miles to Vermont.
Donna Kennedy Maccherone is the founder of Zen Wise Writers, a growing community of writers and thinkers. Her work has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Tiferet Journal, Collateral, ParentCo, Kaatskill Life, Paterson Literary Review, East by Northeast Literary Magazine, BrainChild, The Weight of Motherhood, a Moonstone Arts anthology, and Persimmon Tree.
Nancy Owen Nelson’s poems have been published in a number of journals. Other publications include her memoirs, Searching for Nannie B and Divine Aphasia: A Woman’s Search for Her Father, her poetry chapbook, My Heart Wears No Colors, and Portals: A Memoir in Verse.  Her poetry book, Five Points South: Poems from an Alabama Pilgrimage, was selected as “2022 Book of the Year” by the Alabama Poetry Society.
Pit Pinegar writes poetry, fiction, and non-fiction.  Nowhere is it more important to experience pockets of joy than in the throes of grief. Sometimes, she says, joy rises improbably in a sorrowful present; other times a photograph or memory can deliver elation fresh as new. Pit guess edited Persimmon Tree’s poetry section in 2023.
Linda Pollard Puner is a college counselor and freelance writer whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Gannett newspapers and other publications. Her idols are Joan Didion, Roz Chast and Simone Biles.
Roberta Schultz, author of Asking Price and Underscore, is a maker of songs, poems and drum circles from Wilder KY. She writes some of her songs on a mountain in North Carolina, and is co-founder of the Poet & Song House Concert Series with her Raison D’Etre trio mates. and
Marcella Peralta Simon is a retired Latinx grandmother, splitting her time between Cambridge UK and Kissimmee, Florida. Her poetry and short fiction pieces have appeared in The Weighing of the HeartPankPoets ChoiceFlash Fiction MagazineBeyond Words Literary MagazineThe Acentos ReviewOn the Run, and Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine.
Helene Smith began writing as a young mother after the death of her own mother – who passed on to her a love of poetry and storytelling. Helene honed her craft with writing courses and a Bachelor of Arts as a mature student which gave her the confidence to believe in herself as a writer. She has published several books for young adults and has completed a book of short fiction, which will be in print shortly. She loves her life, family, friends and the natural environment which fills her with wonder every day.
After following an irregular career path, Kathryn Taylor retired to focus on freelance editing and writing essays. Her work has appeared in various print and online publications, including Purple Clover and Persimmon Tree. Her essay  “Maize Madness” was anthologized by Woodhall Press in Flash Nonfiction Food (2020). She lives outside Philadelphia.
windflower lives in verdant western Massachusetts with her wife, on the unceded homelands of the Pocumtuc, Nipmuc and Nonotuck people. Her camera is a bridge to the poetry in nature and her own spirit. Her work has been shown in several exhibits and has been published in literary magazines and journals, including her poetry chapbook, Age Brings Them Home to Me, published this year.
Born and raised in New York, Karen Zlotnick lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband and their Newfoundland dog.  Some of her work has been featured in Pithead Chapel, TypishlyjmwwStonecoast Review, and Moon City Review. In addition, one of her stories was nominated for Best Small Fictions.

Kathy Taylor is a writer, musician, photographer, and a retired professor of Spanish literature, linguistics, and creative writing. She has lived in Mexico, Nicaragua, Ireland, Curaçao and Germany, and has written and published in English, Spanish and Papiamentu. Her recent short story collection Trees and Other Witnesses, was a 2022 finalist for the Colorado Author’s League award. She has just finished a new novel called The Birthing House, which takes place in Germany and is about writing, memory and belonging. She lives off the grid with her husband in the mountains of Colorado.


Merry Song is an amateur photographer who enthusiastically captures faces.  She lives in Eugene, Oregon where she teaches writing and spirituality.

One Comment

  1. I gifted myself as long as it took to delight in reading and reflecting on each remarkable piece. Thank you, thank you and thank you.

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