Saturday, December 9, 2017

Audio Essay: "Wise Women"

 This essay is from a trip last year to Newfoundland.  Although the events of the essay take place on the Northern Peninsula near the Viking settlement of L'Anse aux Meadows, the photo above is on the East Coast trail of the Avalon Peninsula.

The essay was originally broadcast on radio show "Esoterica" on station WERU on December 5, 2017. Click on the tiny gray MP3 box under the title.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Audio Essay: "Bus to Dolores Hildalgo"

This little piece is from a 9-week trip to central and southern Mexico about a decade ago. The audio version was first broadcast on the program "Esoterica" on our community radio station WERU 
Click on the tiny gray MP3 box under the title.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"Fallout" Nominated for Pushcart Award

 I just got notice that my essay, "Fallout," has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Saw Palm, the literary magazine that originally published it. It is also included in my hybrid memoir, Space Heart. A Memoir in Stages, forthcoming from Burrow Press in Fall 2018 We'll see if the essay makes the final cut into the annual Pushcart anthology. 

"The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America. 

"Since 1976, hundreds of presses and thousands of writers of short stories, poetry and essays have been represented in our annual collections. Each year most of the writers and many of the presses are new to the series. Every volume contains an index of past selections, plus lists of outstanding presses with addresses.

"The Pushcart Prize has been a labor of love and independent spirits since its founding. It is one of the last surviving literary co-ops from the 60's and 70's. Our legacy is assured by donations to our Fellowships endowment"

By Linda Buckmaster, 2017
This field trip down Memory Lane my brother Ric and I are taking is the most time we have spent together in years, decades even. At the wheel, he maintains a non-stop patter, punctuated by indignation, on any topic. We have just crossed the Indian River over the Melbourne Causeway to the beach side of Florida’s A1A, our old stomping grounds. Melbourne Beach, Canova Beach, Indialantic, Indian Harbor Beach, and our home town of Satellite Beach.  He used to be so quiet; I’ve always been the talkative one.
Now he talks continually about anything, like the news story about the ax murderer captured on videos at the hardware story buying multiple bottles of bleach and big plastic bags similar to the ones they found the bodies in. This is not the kind of thing I’m that interested in, but I say, “Uh-huh.” Maybe Ric is just nervous, I think, spending time driving around his big sister, the one whose approval he used to always want.
We’ve decided to go see our old house, the one where we grew up on Albatross Drive when our father was a rocket engineer at Cape Canaveral. We moved out in 1968 after our parents divorced and my mother married George, taking us into his larger, more grand ranch house in Indialantic. The selling point for us teenagers was supposed to be that it sat even closer to the beach than our old house, though the surf wasn’t as good down there. The surfers weren’t as cool in that town, either, since they all went to Melbourne High rather than one of the beach schools like Satellite or Cocoa Beach. They were more like surfer wannabes, my brother and I sniffed, and he made a deal to ride his motorcycle every morning to Satellite for his last years of school.
I  lived in George’s house a only few months before I left for college, and then a year after that, I left Florida for good, eventually settling in Maine. I accumulated college degrees, a family, a professional life. My brother made it as far as Jacksonville. He rarely showed up in the past when I came down for my annual visit. My mother kept me up to date on his jobs—building swimming pools, running heavy equipment, welding at the Navy Yard.  But I never could keep track of his rap sheet, which sentence he was serving for which crime for which drug. Maybe I just didn’t listen too closely when my mother called to tell me the latest.
Ric never did graduate from Satellite High. Instead, he has the unconnected fact-strewn detritus of the autodidact, information gleaned from the “History” and “Discovery” channels, Smithsonian magazine and his prodigious reading. Most of his talk now centers on the stupidity of other people, like the ax murderer, completely washing over his own as a two-strike felon and ex-heroin addict on methadone. Non-stop, I can see it’s going to be on this trip.
 Seven-year-old Ricky was sleeping in the other twin bed in my room while his was being painted. We had slept in his room a couple of weeks earlier as mine was becoming a nice lavender. It took longer for paint to dry in those days, especially in the humidity, and the smell of new paint hung thickly, ominously, in the air.
Having my little brother sleep over gave me the excuse as an eleven-year-old to jump back and forth on the beds before settling down for the night. Much later, I was woken by the sound of my father’s drunken voice down the hall, not an unusual sound. I don’t remember what he was harassing my mother about this time, but he was loud enough to wake my brother, too.
“What’s going on?” Ricky whispered.
“Daddy came home.”
We both lay in our side-by-side twin beds, listening. Even though it was the middle of the night, my father wanted my mother to make him dinner. She had already made us all dinner earlier, of course, but Daddy didn’t want leftovers, he wanted meat loaf, freshly made meat loaf.
“Where’s my dinner, Thelma?” he kept saying in that wheedling nasty voice he used when he was drunk but was a gentle teasing tone when sober.  “Where’s my goddamn dinner?”
“He should have eaten his dinner at dinnertime,” my brother whispered knowingly.
I couldn’t hear my mother’s soft reply but I’m sure she was trying to be reasonable, placating.
“I don’t care if the goddamn hamburger is frozen,” he threatened in a rising voice. “I want meat loaf—now.”
Just go to sleep, Daddy, I thought. Just go to sleep.
My mother was saying something.
“Thaw it out!” he slurred loudly.
There was more quiet talking.
“I don’t care how goddamn long it takes. Thaw it out.” He threw down the words, his voice meaner than I’d ever heard before, even that time when my mother woke up the next day with a broken wrist.
 “Remember when we used to go ‘moteling’?” I ask Ric as we drive by the new hi-rises.
“Yeah,” he snorts a laugh.
“Moteling” was a game my brother and I invented when I was old enough to drive and he was old enough, probably twelve, to know he was privileged to be cruising with his big sister so he had to be cool. It would have been a Friday or Saturday night. My mother must have been home if I got the car. Or maybe she was dating George by then, going out in his red Mustang.
Ricky and I would head to the strip in Cocoa Beach, where there was much more action at that time than our sleepy town. Moteling consisted of pulling into one of the famous motels along the way like the Vanguard (named after a rocket) or the Sea Missile or the Holiday Inn, where the astronauts stayed when they were in town. These were all open corridor motels—two stories high with hallways like balconies. We didn’t have any two-story buildings in Satellite Beach yet. And of course, each motel had a swimming pool, which always looked more intriguing at night with the underwater lights making them so blue. I would pull into a parking spot pretending we had a room there, and we would get out and just basically run around like the kids we were. Then we jumped back into the car and drove away as if we had done something to be guilty about.
“I loved the ice machines,” I say, remembering how we would open the big doors and get a fistful of ice to suck or throw at each other.
“Yeah, and those Coke machines where you could get a can for a quarter,” Ric says, his voice rising with excitement. The new aluminum cans with pop-tops were more exciting than the old-fashion bottles.
“And the stairs we ran up and down.”
“Remember the guy who came out in his hole-y underwear and yelled at us?”
We both laugh, the smiles lingering. Moteling was a comfort sport for Ric and me. Maybe it was because most of the time we had spent in motels, the family had been together and my father sober enough to drive and play with us. That extended journey to Dad’s temporary job in California, for example, when we took in Yellowstone, the Black Hills, Glacier National Park, and the long drive down the Pacific coast and finally Disney Land. Of course, we also had lived in a motel for six months in Cocoa Beach while our cement-block house was being built in the new subdivision.
Everything on A1A looks vaguely the same now but different, less open space, in fact, no open space, in between the miles of buildings. Before the first rocket was launched from the Cape in 1958, the area was nothing but palmettos and mosquitoes and miles and miles of empty beach. Since then, a whole world has grown up here around the space industry and tourism, expanding wildly in every direction possible on this two-mile wide barrier island.
“Oh look. There’s the old Missileman Bar,” I say. The place, tucked back from the road in what we now call a mini-mall, used to advertise strippers and now has “all-nude pole dancers.” I guess they’ve progressed. Occasionally between the towers of condominiums, a glimpse of the ocean teases and a real sea breeze drifts through.  
I tune Ric out as I watch the scenery go by. He’s just too intense, especially at close range. And even though we share some memories, what else do we share, really? What does it mean to grow up in the same home as someone whose life is nothing like yours now? I noticed last night at dinner at George’s how Ric presses his point strongly in a conversation, making himself louder to overtalk the other, interrupting heedlessly. Just like our father used to do, I realized, sober or drunk, which made him so obnoxious.
 “Why is Daddy yelling?” Ricky asked from his bed. “Why is he being mean to mommy?”
I didn’t say anything. I was too busy. Just make Daddy go to sleep, I prayed. Just make him go to sleep.
“Linda,” my brother insisted. “Why is Daddy yelling?”
“He just is.”
I heard the sounds of the freezer door opening and closing and the crinkly, sticky sound of a plastic package of meat being unwrapped. “And just thaw it out, Thelma,” he said. “I don’t want it cooking until the meat is thawed.”
I could hear my father making sounds with a glass and a bottle, and my mother going through the motions of cooking. Some time passed quietly. Ricky and I waited, unsure whether it was all over or not.
“You’re cooking it, Thelma,” Daddy suddenly said in that wheedling voice. “I can smell it cooking. I told you not to cook it.”
By this time, Ricky and I could smell it, the sweetish odor of hamburger baking, the first stages when it was still raw but warm, a kind of sickening smell, not good enough yet to make you hungry, not good like my mother’s meat loaf usually smelled.
 Ric gets quiet when we pull up in front of Satellite High. I tell a few happy days stories, like how marching practice on the hot asphalt lot behind the shopping plaza with the White Castle hamburger joint as a “Scorpionette” dancer for the band were the best days of my life. How riding the bus home after a night game with my best friends—the other girls on the dance squad—and occasional instrumental blasts from geeky band members made me higher than anything I was to later smoke. How  . . .  Ric corrects me a couple of times:
“It wasn’t a White Castle. It was a Royal Castle. There were no White Castles in Florida. One time when I was at a White Castle up in Georgia  . . .”
We both agree the skinny hamburgers on the gummy rolls were awful as we head back out to A1A. The road is so cluttered by new businesses, neither of us is prepared when the turnoff to our old neighborhood appears suddenly on the left. I had wanted to check out what had been the little sandy pullout at the top of the street on the right, my access to the untouristed beach, the place where the world suddenly opened up when I crested the dune. The Domino’s Pizza now where the pullout used to me throws me.
As we try to remember who lived where, we exclaim how narrow the street is; it’s easy to see how our dad almost drove his car onto the neighbor’s front porch that night, we agree. We pass the cutoff path to our elementary school, now paved and with an anti-drug dealer warning sign.
It’s still a rather plain neighborhood of one-story cement block tract houses (four models available), the latest modern in their day in the squat style of Florida ranch houses. Those, like ours, that had a jalousie “Florida room” were almost the top of the line. The attached enclosed garages were a step up from the more proletariat carports of other developments.
The buildings must have been better built than might be assumed by the rate they were constructed; they seem to still be in good condition after fifty years. The neighborhood looks more working class than it did, though; the space engineers’ families like ours, moved on.  Pickup trucks are now parked on lawns. The rough, wide-leafed St. Augustine grass runs ragged along the street edge. Some of the garages have been turned into living spaces and even home-based businesses. There still are almost no trees, just a few scraggly cabbage and palmetto palms—straight barrel trunks with green ruffles on top.
We round the corner and stop two doors down in front of 180 Albatross Drive, our old house. It looks much smaller, of course. The little porch—the apron of the cement slab one step up from the grass—looks hardly big enough for me and my dolls, never mind the Moxley girls from down the street with theirs. The imaginary wagon train we traveled on as hearty pioneer women would never fit into the front yard.  
Ric and I comment on how large the three palm trees have grown, even the one the dog chewed down to a nub. In all this time, no one has added any other landscaping, at least to the front yard. The cement-block decorative wall off the end with the attached cement planter looks just like it does in all those photos of us in Easter outfits.
I don’t tell any happy days stories here. I can’t think of any, although surely there are some. Ric is quiet. I might have imagined that people in this kind of situation would tell stories like, “remember the time . . .” and then laugh knowingly together. Instead, Ric and I just sit in the car in the middle of the street, two middle-aged people looking to the left.
            “All set?” Ric asks.
“Yup,” I say. And we drive away.
 Some kind of movement started up again in the kitchen like someone bumping into the dishwasher with a clink against its metal side. “You know what this is, Thelma? This is my belt,” Daddy said. “You know what happens when I take off my belt?”
I didn’t understand. This was actually a kind of family joke with us kids. “You know what happens when I take off my belt?” he would say in his teasing, fake-mad voice.
“Yeah! Your pants fall down!” we would shout and laugh, and he would look sheepish as if he just heard the joke for the first time. As far as I knew, my father had never hit anyone with a belt before.
But then I heard the sound of leather on a body, not a very hard slap but repeated smacking. At least, that’s what I thought it sounded like—like hitting, but that didn’t make sense to me. What’s happening? I don’t remember if my mother cried out, but then I realized Daddy was hitting Mommy over and over with his belt. I held my breath. How can he do that?
I could feel Ricky in his bed frozen like the hamster always was when the cat came into the room. I suddenly had to go to the bathroom really bad, an inside pressure pushing on my bottom. I worked on stopping the feeling since I wasn’t going to get up. We all knew the same thing: If we were very quiet, it would all go away and be over, all the yelling and bad words and threats. He would fall asleep eventually and it would be over.
Then it was quiet for a while and I let out a long full breath, the first one since I woke. A breeze rustled the crocus bush outside my window. The insects never faltered in their nightly hymn. But I heard the slapping sound start up again, not as loud or strong as before. Oh gee, I thought, and pulled my breath in.
 “Let’s go see if the Brugenheisser’s fallout shelter is still there,” Ric says as we pull away from our old house .
“What fallout shelter? And who were the Brugenheissers?” I ask.
“You don’t remember Heidi Brugenheisser? She was a friend of yours. Her father was one of those German engineers who came over after the War and became a citizen so he could work at the Cape. I can’t remember her brother’s name. It was on Sixth Street, Northeast Sixth. It was one of those above-ground ones.”
“Are you sure about this?”
We have reached the end of Albatross Drive and are poking down one of the numbered streets, stark and plain yards with the grass drying under the brutal sun. Just twenty miles from Cape Canaveral, we would have been a prime target for missiles from Cuba. The “Red Threat” hovered over our days. Those missiles carrying atomic warheads capable of arching over the curve of the earth might smash into our homes without warning.  I have no recollection of a fallout shelter anywhere on the beachside, and as an anxious child always worrying about “what next,” I would have loved to have a fallout shelter in our back yard.  
“Yeah, yeah,” Ric continues. “Remember, the Girl Scouts had a Halloween Party in it. And Mom and I came to pick you up so I got to go inside.”
“My Girl Scout troop had a Halloween Party in a fallout shelter?”
“Yeah, they decorated it with fake spider webs and everything.”
I look over at Ric driving. How does he remember all these things and I don’t? He remembers details about my dance recitals, and who said what when, places we went when we were kids like to Weeki Wachee Springs and who was with us. I don’t remember half of it. I forgot he was the pitcher on his Little League team—even though they were in the State finals. I forgot he even played Little League for four years. And I certainly don’t remember a friend named Heidi Brugenheiser or any fallout shelters. Where was I when I was growing up? I wonder.
 This time I heard my mother above the belt slapping. “How do you like it? Huh? How do you like it?” her voice warbled through tears over and over. My eyes darted to Ricky, whose glance grabbed mine at the same moment. I didn’t know what to think—was our mother using the belt on our father? Even as an eleven-year-old, I could hear her voice of frustration, of impotence, of repressed anger, like the wimpy kid on the playground who finally gets pushed too far and starts flailing wildly. My father was very quiet for a change.
“Daddy doesn’t even feel it,” Ricky said in a soft, proud little-boy voice, but a hesitant little-boy voice, a questioning one as he stared at the ceiling.
I was annoyed Ricky could be so dumb. “That’s because Daddy’s drunk,” I said,
“Daddy’s drunk?”
“Yeah, he drank too much booze.”
My brother didn’t say anything else after that. I didn’t either. We seemed to be listening to each other listen. Eventually my father must have passed out somewhere, and it got very quiet all over the house until I heard my mother moving in the kitchen. She clicked off the oven. The oven door creaked open and she slid the pan across the bumpy metal rack. She pulled open one of the drawers and I heard the rip of wax paper along the jagged box edge. It crinkled as she folded it over the meat. The refrigerator door opened and closed.  I heard her turning the lights off one by one and finally the last one in her bedroom. I heard her lie down. The crickets chirped peacefully outside, and I could breathe now. But it was too late.
 Suddenly Ric says, “You know, I couldn’t stand the smell of wet paint for years.”
            “Yeah. I felt the same way about meatloaf cooking,” I say, looking out the window for a fallout shelter.
The things I do remember about Ricky, other than the pesky brother parts, the kinds of things my mother would still tell stories about, were his inventiveness. Once before he was even a teenager, he traded his home-made skateboard for a mostly broken-down air conditioner that he refurbished for his bedroom, its noisy grind echoing down the hall every night. And then he rigged it and his bedside lamp and maybe something else to a piece of plywood wired with a master switch so he could turn every thing off and on from his bunkbed.
But those stories were overshadowed a few years later when my mother came home from work to find him sniffing glue on the Florida room couch, the plastic bag next to him and his voice unnaturally high. Or when he and Ricky H
askins broke into the back window of the drug store in the shopping plaza up the street to steal some kind of drug. Family counseling was ordered, and my brother and mother went a couple of times. My father refused to go. “I know what they’re going to say,” he told my mother. “That it’s all my fault. It is my fault.”
I was the golden girl of the family, the smart one, the mouthy but well-behaved one, the star of my dance school with good grades. Ricky was the picked-on one, constantly verbally harassed, what I would call now the projection of my father’s self-loathing.
Over the years after I left home, I would hear dribs and drabs about Ric  from my mother, although she and George didn’t hear much either—maybe just a middle-of-the-night phone call for immediate money to pay an “electricity bill” that needed to be paid right then. Years later, those old photos of his little boy buzz-cut head always made me sad, too sad to look at. Even though he was always smiling, I would feel a little sick to my stomach, especially after I had my own son. I couldn’t bring up a picture of him as a happy child.
Ric came down from Jacksonville after my father died. No one really knew how to get hold of Ric in those days so he could be at the hospital at the end, but somehow a message eventually got passed along by his roommate or someone.  We gathered at my Dad’s house, really his wife Mimi’s house, although gathered is too formal a word. We were there hanging out in the living room—Grandmom Buck, Mimi, a couple of Mimi’s sisters, Ric, and myself with my five-year-old son, Eben. And my mother was there, inviting herself to accompany me although no one had a problem with it; after all, she had known Dad and Grandmom Buck her whole life. She had even cried when I had called to tell her he died—almost twenty years after the divorce. “He did it his way,” she said, quoting Frank Sinatra. “He always had to do it his way,” she sobbed.
Now Ric was playing the prodigal son, arm around my mother and grinning hugely for the camera, answering questions in this chatty way I had never seen before. I couldn’t help noticing he disappeared a bit often into the bathroom for periods of time, but everything was good. After all, my mother hadn’t seen Ric in several years and she was delighted to find him alive. He had even brought along a big three-ring binder filled with memorabilia of his life as a competitive surfer. Turns out he was the East Coast Champion in the Master’s class one year with sponsorships from major surfboard makers. Who knew?
 It was too late to change anything that night of the meatloaf. I squirmed under the clinging sheets, kicked them off, and lay rigid on my back, not daring to look over at Ricky’s bed. Now that we had witnessed this together, it wasn’t just my shame anymore. Now it also belonged to a little seven-year-old boy who still sucked his thumb. I felt like I had taken away my brother’s innocence by telling him Daddy was drunk.
Big sister that I was, I told. I told him what was wrong with our father, his father. Daddy acted like that because there was something wrong with him, a reason that might explain some of the sounds Ricky must have heard before, confusing, scary sounds for a kid alone in his bunkbed. But explanation didn’t make it better, didn’t return us to before or even past it. I told—his daddy wasn’t the perfect, strong, smart daddy little boys were supposed to have. It was like I had torn a big rip in his innocence against the sharp edges of a wax paper box.
It was all right for me to know. I was older. I was the girl, the smart girl. I could just wait it out, “what next” hovering like the sickening smell of meatloaf thawing. I felt cold now and pulled the sheet back up.
I could never take it back, I realized, not like those cruel things you might say to your girlfriend and then later say you didn’t mean them. Big sister that Ricky had always believed, I told. Smarty-pants Linda. Big mouth Linda. It was all my fault my little brother now knew about our father. It was all my fault and I could never take it back.
 The new Pineda Causeway runs behind the old neighborhood where we look for the fallout shelter on Northeast Sixth. The street itself turns out to have more vegetation on it than the rest of the neighborhood, at least in the backyards. Live oaks and banana trees tower over the one-story houses. Untrimmed crocus bushes scramble along the house sides. The perfect symmetry of a Norway pine shades the corner of one of the driveways.
“We should be able to see the air pipe sticking up over the house,” Ric says. “I saw a documentary once on old fallout shelters, and the airpipes on the above-ground ones were over a story high. The program was about these guys who look for old shelters across the country. One of them had been turned into a restaurant.  I think it was in Louisiana.”
Looking through to the back of the long brown house with a two-car garage and manicured front planter, we can see something a bit rusty sticking up above it all. “There it is!” we exclaim together like a couple of kids. Ric stops the car and we stare at the house. That just might be an air pipe, we agree—the air pipe for a fallout shelter.


Monday, September 4, 2017

Salon with Joel Lipman

 It's good to have a collection of poets and poetry-lovers in your backyard on a sunny summer day. Joel Lipman ( )was the featured reader at my recent Literary Salon.

He brought 24 framed text-and-image pieces and distributed them around my living and dining room. Here are a few:

He also gave a short talk and reading from poems recently published in "Inland Seas: Quarterly Journal of the Great Lakes Historical Society." Here is one of them.


Oil wicks burn
spring’s chill drizzle.

Lanterns’ yellow mantles
light littered beach
along Highway 32
where Pike Creek
meets lake.

Dip nets rigged
with pulleys, ropes,
hinged frames.

Long seines belly out
across the stream mouth.
From each end,
hip deep dark water,
men pull net
and call quiet
across cold shallows.

On the bank, hands
reach into a mesh arc
where silver smelt flip.

Men smoke cigarettes,
sit on five gallon buckets
pearly with scales,
drink schnapps,
talk soft, spit, adjust
suspenders, boots, waders,
instructing kids
in the lure of currents
and chant of toss, sweep, lift.

Along a wave-lapped
shore pocket
where Pike Creek
and Lake Michigan mix,

twenty pounds of smelt
in a five-gallon plastic pail,
cookfire skillet sizzling.
                                          Joel Lipman, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Publication News -- Oh boy!

I'm happy to announce that my hybrid memoir, Space Heart. A Memoir in Stages, has been accepted for publication by Orlando-based Burrow Press for September 2018 ( The story juxtaposes the wild natural world of palmettos and beaches on  Space Coast Florida in the Fifties and Sixties with the cutting edge technology of Cape Canaveral. Those two threads intersected in my own body when I underwent open heart surgery at age eleven. I've found the perfect publisher for this book after eight years and five versions of work.

Burrow Press has published two of my essays (one long, one flash) on its on-line "Fantastic Floridas" literary journal. In addition to the journal and books, the press, which describes itself as a "nonprofit independent publisher," hosts a live reading series called Functionally Literate that features readings by contemporary writers.

When I was growing up, there was nothing literary about Orlando; I didn't find out until much later that Jack Keroauc wrote The Dharma Bums in a tiny house in the College Park section. (BTW: The Kerouac Project offers writer residencies at the house

Back then, Orlando was just the big city two hours away you went to once a year for Christmas shopping. They had real department stores like Sears and Roebuck and Montgomery Ward. We'd start early in the morning in my father's Chevrolet, my brother and I alternately squabbling and playing nicely in the the back seat. The road through the interior was long and flat, a barren swampy stretch though gator country, the wide open sky interrupted only by hardwood hammocks of oak, red cedar, and cypress among other trees. Of course, my family didn't know the names of such things, but I knew the way the passing scenery made me feel -- bigger than I actually was and smaller at the same time.

On another note -- My poem "Flowering," which seems to have a life of its own popping up on various websites, is in the forthcoming anthology Poetry of Presence. An Anthology of Mindfulness Poetry to be out by the end of the summer from Grayson Press (
The anthology is an outgrowth of the website "A Year of Being Here," which includes what the editors call mindfulness poems from contemporary and historical writers. Other contemporary Maine poets included are Maine Poet Laureate Stuart Kestenbaum ( and Carolyn Locke (

I'm honored to be in such esteemed company, which you can see from the book webpage's complete list of contributors. I never thought I'd be listed as a contributor to anything just before Charles Bukowski (and I bet you never thought of him as a writer of "mindfulness poems")!

And one more thing -- At some point in the not-too-distant future, my essay "Security Clearance" (first published in "Fantastic Floridas" and earlier on this blog) will appear in an anthology called What I Found in Florida to be published by the University of Florida Press.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer Excerpt from "On Our Own Road"

"Like the Merry Pranksters or something, a Magic Bus. Only with chicks driving.”

Late May, 1970: My friend Barbara and I packed up her Plymouth Valiant with our entire record collections including the British version of the first Rolling Stones album. We were going North. Looking at the map laid out on the seat, we decided to go “here”—a spot on the map, the end of the road, the tip of the world, Provincetown. We were Florida beach girls and our homing devices were tuned to the sea and the sand. 
Within a couple of days after arriving in town, Barbara and I met up with two other young women, Lynn and Dawn, to share a one-bedroom cottage like a tree house up a long flight of stairs while we supported ourselves as chambermaids, store clerks, and waitresses. The cottage was quite a find, just off the Provincetown main street with all the action, but hidden in the tree tops.
Our moldy front porch was the perfect place to kick back in one of those uncomfortable old-fashion metal porch chairs rusting under the peeling paint, and put our feet up on the railing while the sounds of town drifted up all through the night. We entertained quite a bit there. Ripple wine and weed were usually what we served, and Barbara made a mean macaroni casserole her mother always cooked with canned tomatoes and ground beef and melted cheese on top.
It was there we came up with our idea on an August night that had just the tiniest hint in the air that summer wasn’t going to last forever. It was even a bit quieter on the street. From inside on the record player we had brought with us in the Valiant, Jimi Hendrix sang about being experienced. Barbara passed me a joint that needed to be re-lit. I could tell it was a Lynn-rolled joint because it was so tight you could hardly get a draw. 
“Those dudes with the van were really cool,” Barbara remembered.
“Yeahhh,” Dawn said in her usual drawn-out way. “And they really appreciated us letting them use our shower.”
We all giggled. There had been four of them and four of us in the tiny cottage, although one couple slipped out to the van.
From below, someone laughed a little too loud, and then a glass broke.
“You know,” I started. “We could get a van like that.”
“Why?” Lynn asked. “We scored big with this place, and we’ve got it the whole summer.”
“No, I mean, we could buy a van and travel around like those guys after the season. They were going all the way to California. We could do that.”
“What about our jobs?” Lynn asked. “I’m supposed to be saving my tips for college so my dad doesn’t have to give me an allowance.”
“A van would be expensive,” Barbara added. “Especially one with a rug and stuff like theirs had.”
“We could buy it together,” I said. “We could all chip in so it would be cheaper. Like the Merry Pranksters or something, a Magic Bus. Only with chicks driving.”
“Actually, I think only one person owns ‘Further,’” Lynn mused.
“So?” I was starting to like this idea. “We could all get jobs this winter and save up our money and then chip in on a van for next summer and take off. It would be awesome.”
A car went by blasting Bette Midler on its radio. After it passed, you could almost hear the surf off in the distance, a call you knew was there even if you didn’t actually hear it.
“Yeahhh,”  Dawn drawled.

After summer, Dawn and Lynn went back to school, and Barbara and I moved to Boston. In the spring, Dawn called to say she had found a Ford Econoline van with many, many miles on it at a telephone company used equipment sale. We had to act fast to get it, she told me, so I hitchhiked to New Haven to check it out with $200 worth of savings stuffed into my jeans pocket. Barbara wasn’t going; by then, she had decided to move to western Massachusetts to join an ashram.
The boxy van, a faded blue like an old police uniform, waited in the back lot of the phone company. On top were rusting matching roof racks for carrying phone equipment. The side door slid open to the empty back, bare except for grooved ridges running up the middle. “They took the radio out,” Dawn said, “but that’s cool. I hear you can get one installed.”
Two seats up front sat on either side of the engine well. Dawn unsnapped the clasps  on the engine cover and opened it up. She and Lynn and I stared at the chunk of metal in the well.
“Looks good, doesn’t it?” Dawn asked, cracking her gum. We nodded. For six hundred dollars, it was ours, equal shares.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Entering the Abandoned Grain Mill at Dusk, Portugal

 (My class, "Writing Place: Landscape, People, and the Natural World," on Whitehead Island, Maine, August 17 to 20 has only 2 spots left.

Entering the Abandoned Grain Mill at Dusk
               Allentejo, Portugal
It’s as if generations of bells accompany us – cow, sheep,
the rituals of being human. They carry the lengthening shadows
and are in turn carried as our small processional, like a band of peasants,
rings through. The trail is clear and we have only to follow.

We have only to follow, and the walk, not far, is far enough to move
through field, past barking dogs, along the road and into brushy woods
as the sun’s last red lingers on tree trunks and fence posts. We find the
approach through dried grasses has been swept clean.

The approach has been swept clean. Spent seed heads mark the edges.
We enter shyly. How will we touch loss, rambling architecture made only
by what was at hand? Rooms that once had functions and names now
spaces open to the sky, millstones still and silent, not a speck of grain.

Not a speck of grain. Everything that could be taken away, taken away.  
We each make our own associations here, layers of peeling white stucco
revealing lives lived. We are old enough to know those things that have
finely ground us down over time: sometimes to dust, sometimes to flour.

Monday, April 17, 2017

"A Tip" Flash Essay

A Tip
 I earned an extra quarter tip once as a carhop at the Whataburger in Tampa, Florida, because I wasn’t wearing a bra. It was 1969, and a quarter was about what you would expect to get from a lone guy in a pickup, so this would be doubling my money.   
I was getting ready to drop out of college, which would mean the end of parental support, and this job was part of my long-range plan, which didn’t go too far past the actual dropping out. Anyway, the Revolution was coming when we wouldn’t need too much money or college degrees, and I imagined myself living simply in a big house in the piney woods along the Hillsborough River with other groovy friends after I got out of the dorm. 

The guy was a fairly average Gulf Coast redneck customer, a working man, I could tell by the putty on his hands. His truck was neither noticeably bad nor nice. We had all types of folks at the Whataburger—rednecks, stoned-out hippies with the munchies, tourists, families with dirty kids and families with clean ones. In my three weeks at the drive-in, I had already learned that the best tippers were those from up north and that the hippies tended to forget.
This guy looked kind of older, like thirty, but he didn’t try to chat me up so I’d linger at his window. I had also learned that chatting up was part of the tipping scene—as long as there was no hot food waiting to be picked up, which made the old people who owned the place and did the cooking ring the pick-up bell like mad.
I could feel the guy staring at me morosely as I went back and forth in front of his car, taking orders, delivering food, hooking the scratched aluminum trays onto partly rolled-up windows. I sensed the subtle creep vibes coming from his truck, something you can’t quite put your finger on but that a young woman learns to pick up. Just the same, I had been a cheerleader so I knew how to move in front of an audience.
The rule was that you paid for your food as soon as it was delivered, so I would only have to go back once more to get his tray. As I reached for it, I saw the quarter on the green rubber-net mat and a second one he was holding up between his thumb and forefinger. “I’ll give you an extra quarter,” he said, watching my face, “if you tell me you’re not wearing a bra.”
Of course I wasn’t. I was a hippie with my mass of frizzy hair pulled back into a ponytail and held by a rubber band, and, frankly, even though I was nineteen, I barely needed one. I was a liberated chick out on her own in the world – free, heedless, naïve. I wore cut-off blue jeans, the fraying edges high on my thighs. I can’t remember what I was wearing for a shirt, but he must have been trying to figure it out as he watched me. Or maybe he knew and wanted to let me know he did.
“Well, are you?” he repeated, not letting go of my eyes. “Are you going to tell me?”
“I’m not,” I said.
He didn’t pick up on the nuance of the reply and tossed the coin onto the tray as I pulled it away. The quarter, solid silver as some still were in those days, made a little bounce on the mat and hit the aluminum edge, not with a nice clean clink but with a hollow, flat clang. As the hot-food bell rang aggressively and I hurried to answer it, the taste of metal sat on my tongue.