Posts Tagged ‘prose’

The statues stand on the shore of the Hudson River, ever-changing, at least for now. They are the effort of one man who has no special goal and who with his silence invites the viewer to read the rocks, as did the author of this guest post who shared these words and images over one hot, tumultuous weekend as the nation’s ears rang with the cries of a child.


Words and Images by Donna Stenwall

He literally balances one rock on top of another. That is it. It is amazing. Kids come by and knock them down and he keeps building. He’s been at it for 2 years. He thinks he will stop in August. The Parks Department said they wouldn’t be able to adopt it and care for it. Who knows what will happen.


In this moment, what do I see? The gentleman in the middle reminds me of the potbellied clown tipsy as he holds on to the lamppost. A paint on velvet picture from my youth.


The proud Victorian woman with her starched bonnet, chest held high, as they made their way from Europe to New York to start a new life.


The Puritan escaping persecution for her beliefs. Is she waiting for another ship to arrive? Gazing towards the world she left behind to start a new life in a new world. Would she even recognize this country she held with such hope and such promise? I do not.

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This past year I read quite a few slave narratives by African Americans who were interviewed in the late 1930s to document their childhood experiences and memories of slavery prior to the Civil War. These people, ranging in age from octogenarians to centenarians, were also asked about their feelings toward the people who had formerly owned them. The wide-range of responses highlight the complex relationships that developed between those who enslaved and those who were enslaved within an institutionalized system of slavery as it existed in the United States for well over two centuries.

The following words that I call Winter into Spring were inspired by one man’s memory of the tough times after the Civil War and his continuing close relationship with the family who had previously owned him. In broken English, he conveyed the depth of his feelings using visual metaphors. He spoke only of his personal experience, but I was moved by something that I felt was universal … how people experience grief whatever its source. And so I took this man’s words, tapped into my own personal experiences and observations of others to draft the following. It may be a work in progress …


Winter into Spring

I remember the day, both of their days,

the soil covering them like I no longer could.

What can I say except losing them was like being a tree in the winter wood. 


Every cold wind, so sharp, blowed my leaves and tore them loose.

They fell to the ground, crumbling to dust, as if to follow those two,

my master and mistress, into their graves below.

I was in a world so dark I could not see.

Naked and alone. Stripped bare like a tree soon to fall.

Then one day I felt whole.

It was a strange day. What day, do you say?

That day it was like Spring, and it come bringing light!

I could see.

Well I guess you could say that little tree it was me.

You asked me how it felt and now I’ve told you.

When they passed I felt done, but the day did come,

though I still sometimes wonder why,

when I finally felt alive again.


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where do the squirrels go

perhaps inside a tree or beneath a big leaf

maybe underground to huddle in a group

a few brave souls probably stay with faces upturned to the sky

I’m pretty sure that I’ve seen wet squirrels before

but when it rains so steady as it has done today

where do the homeless people go

not into tree not beneath a leaf though I am sure there are a few undergrounds

but in general really I am asking as I see the puddles grow outside

where do the homeless go in the rain

those folks I saw just yesterday in Back Bay

not far from this squirrel

on the streets in the alleys on the benches

some asking for money some fighting and others praying

I don’t know where they go in the rain

but I probably should



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… paired with a powerful poem referencing Icarus.  It can take a while for the free version of the 52 page journal to load but it is worth it to start from page one and work your way to the end.  This Fall 2015 edition of Dirty Chai Magazine is filled with beautiful art, creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry.  As the editor Azia DuPont notes in her opening letter there are a number of sensitive pieces dealing with tough topics chosen “not for their shock value but for their humanity.”  As always I am honored to have one of my photos selected to share the page with such works. Enjoy.


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during my travels

of all the herbs and plants left behind

the marigold alone did not survive


there is a single blossom

autumnal orange with patches of gold

broken off I suppose as its green stem dried

that blossom it still thrives

without water or soil yet warmed by the sun

at rest where I found it upon returning home

on the tabletop next to the kitchen window

we’ll see how long it lasts

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through two panes of old glass

rippled and bubbled

branches on display, barely lit by the setting sun

while reflected in the glass light from the lamp indoors

my camera in that moment out of focus

but my sight as I sat in a chair across the room

admiring such complex layers of light and life

quite clear quite clear


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Yesterday, in a coffee-stained manilla folder, I found an old personal essay.  I almost posted it on this blog but I remained indecisive about the imagery with which to pair the words.  Embedded in the text was a reference to red dust and that was the image I most wanted — little pyramids of red — but the dust in the story is red Virginia clay not dark Massachusetts soil.  I tried photographing mounds of smoky paprika but the imagery just didn’t work. 

I then tried photographing blue sea glass. In the text there are many references to that color.  There is even a blue glass in the essay but it is a drinking glass and has nothing to do with the sea. So, no.

The essay is about family and that universal topic of death and the revelations made soon after and then long after the passing of loved ones.  I considered uploading this portrait of Steve.  He is part of my family now.  Maybe I could make him a bridge between past and present?  In the end, I decide that wouldn’t work either.  He is not mentioned in the essay at all as it currently exists.  The key subjects of the text, my parents, passed away before meeting him.  He often tells me that he wishes that fact were not so.

As the day grew long, I began to wonder about the appropriateness of posting the text at all with or without complementary images.  An unfinished essay, without direction, perhaps something written years ago just to help me let go?  Not a sad piece, just reflective, but would anyone want to read such stuff?  I kept staring at the words.  Not every passage worked but some did seem like diamonds in the rough.  Maybe.  In the end I decided to post the ice picture, little B-612  (by the way no ice on the windows today),  and to commit to continue working on the essay.   I will keep it out in the light and we’ll see what emerges this year.

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… but i am happy to be home. Plus we returned just in time to attend a book festival in Boston. No books were bought but I did have the pleasure of meeting some of the people behind 21st Editions, The Art of the Book.  As a press that uniquely marries fine art photography with poetry, it is my dream publisher.  They produce works primarily acquired by libraries and museums.  As I told one of the staff, the newsletter they send out to subscribers is quite inspiring. I’ve been especially fascinated by the short videos produced to highlight upcoming titles.  When asked what I liked about them, I shared that it was the audio element added to the mix of words and images.  Below is one of my favorites — images of 21st Editions books with a poem read by poet John Wood.  Enjoy.

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As I work with this image of a leaf

for this post to share with you

I find myself singing these words

with great zest and sincerity

and yes I sound pretty good (or maybe not)

but since I cannot read or write

 a musical note of any kind

the rhythms of this song will be lost to time

but this image of the leaf

in its fine autumn dress

will hopefully brighten your day for quite a while.


* The title refers to a guest post I have asked my younger brother, who does have an ear for music, to write about music and nature based on his life experiences down in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  It is a treat I hope to share before the end of the year. Stay tuned. Get it? Tuned … Have a good day, folks.  😉


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in the garden below

chamomile grows

white petals bright

in the light of the setting sun

spreading profusely



soon to be cut I’m sure

but not yet

not yet

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