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Racing Away

The Linden Review. Vol. 5. (May 2024).

I pressed the accelerator of our rental car. In the rearview mirror, a straight, empty, two-lane road unfurled. Ahead, blacktop shimmied in late afternoon sun. All around, reddish dirt, scattered spindly sagebrush and saltbush, tufts of grama and sacaton grasses. Darker red mesas jutted from the basin floor, rock ships of Shiprock, New Mexico.

Seventy miles per hour. Eighty.

Peter, then-boyfriend and later-husband, eyed the speedometer. Eyed me.

Eighty-five. Ninety.

We were flying. In the back seat, freedom: tent, sleeping bags, nested cookware, backpacks, extra boot laces. Last month’s paychecks, after deducting rent and utilities, spent at Chicago’s Erehwon Outfitters, which was “nowhere” spelled backwards.

Which was where we were.

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Map Case

Harpur Palate. (April 2024).

My brother Tennessee and I were closest when we shepherded our parents toward their deaths. Mom tumbled down her stairs and hit the landing’s wall so hard she left an indentation in the drywall. It was her second fall in a month. Both times, upon impact, her brain bounced within her skull. Both times, she lost consciousness and suffered a concussion. After the last spill, she woke confused and garbled words, so her doctor recommended an assisted-living facility. It was then my older brother and I started talking every day. Him driving the Bay Area’s I-280, me cooking dinner in Tucson, Arizona. We talked to Dad, too, who tried to live with Mom at the “Old Folks’ Home,” as he called the facility, near their home on an island north of Seattle.

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A Prickley Pear History Lesson

Orion Magazine. (June 2023).

Summer Monsoons in the Southwestern Sonoran Desert produce a wild bounty of crimson fruit. Rising from Engelmann’s prickly pear cacti (Opuntia engelmannii), these fruits, or tuna in Spanish, perch atop Mickey Mouse–shaped pads like ruby crowns. Against muted browns and greens of the desert, the tuna are eye-popping.


When I landed in Tucson for graduate school more than thirty years ago, I was amazed to learn the spine-covered fruits were edible. I sent store-bought prickly pear jelly back home to midwestern friends for the holidays, its dazzling pink hue a cheeky reminder of the desert’s December sunshine. I knew, though, that with enough determination, I could put up my own preserves from foraged fruit just as my Kansas grandmother had canned foods from her garden. When I realized I wasn’t moving after a decade of desert living, I decided to see if harvesting prickly pear fruit could connect me to the native foodways of my adopted home.

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Spastic-Dog Woman

Litro Magazine. (May 2023).

I set my sights on befriending Retrievers Couple. They live close and their yard is thick with the island’s native plants. Since I’m a biologist, I figure we’ll bond over sourcing hard-to-find rhodies and salmon berries for my developing garden. They’re into animals, too; both retrievers are Best-of-Show material: brushed-out coats, perfect gait, proud form. This late-September Tuesday afternoon, I time Noelle’s walk for 3:15, when Retrievers Couple promenade north-south along our road, hoping to meet at the crossroads.

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Road to Chaco

JMWW. (March 2023).

With the still-smooth sole of my hiking boot, I pressed the accelerator of our rented Ford Escort. In the rearview mirror, an empty two-lane, straight-as-a-Roman road unfurled. Ahead, blacktop shimmied in the late afternoon sun. All around, reddish dirt, scattered spindly sagebrush and saltbush, tufts of grama and sacaton grasses, and darker red mesas jutting from the basin floor, rock ships of Shiprock, New Mexico.

Sixty mph. Seventy. Eighty.

Peter, my then-boyfriend-later-husband, eyed the speedometer. Eyed me.

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Wild Roof Journal. (Issue 16; September 2022).

Ten packages or Banquet Brown ‘N Serve Vermont Maple sausages elbow purple tomatoes, rainbow carrots, lacinato kale recently freed from shopping bags, the Day-Glo yellow and red boxes like weeds among my heirlooms.

“You’re in luck,” I say to my teenage daughter Ava. “The Processed-Meat God has answered your prayers.” Nearly a year into home-delivery, with impulse purchases a memory, the Safeway deliveryman’s mistake is a boon to carnivore Ava stuck with a vegetarian mother.

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The Mom Costume

Mothering: An Anthology. Edited by Sorbie, Anne and Grogan, Heidi. Pages 63-65. Inanna Press, Toronto. (2022).

I was supposed to be happy. My daughter was healthy and beautiful. But there were downsides to birthing: exhaustion, pain, disquietude. The tiredness and soreness would pass but I wasn’t sure about the unsettledness. It was as if I had pulled on this pudgy postpartum flesh by mistake, a mom costume I tried on at the Halloween store and the zipper had stuck while some other woman walked off wearing my professional slacks.

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Cycling with Jane

Orca: A Literary Journal. (Issue 8; November 2021).

“I can’t believe what Ione told me when she called,” Jane says.

Whatever her daughter said must chaff or Jane wouldn’t cycle so. Lagging behind, soon to be out of earshot, I dig into my pedals and narrow the gap between us.

A Saturday morning in August, with the potential for catastrophe since the unseasonable cool weather will draw others to Tucson’s Loop, a multi-use pathway hugging the city’s dry riverbeds. I scan for upcoming dog walkers, joggers, slower cyclists; obstacles which may bound into Jane’s trajectory and upend her, as she has yet to complete a training season without a tumble.

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Beach Walk

Miniskirt Magazine. (Issue 7; October 2021).

You throw it back; toss an unblemished queen into the water. The sea swallows the empty shell; its rosy-mouthed pinkness spirals beneath a greenish-grey wave until lost to view. Most would covet the Phyllonotus erythrostomus and place the snail upon a shelf. From afar, they would admire the murex’s delicate spines, pouting lip, alabaster white shoulder, delicate whorl, and slender siphoonal canal, perhaps placing the palm-sized specimen in a Lucite box to guard against breaking.

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Whitefish Review. Pages 141-154 (Summer/Fall 2021).

With hula hoe and spade, I slice taproots and upend rhizomes. A pile grows: leaves, blossoms, tubers. On hands and knees, I grub. Thrust the hand spade deep. Push handle’s butt-end with my palm, at the auspicious intersection of life, health, and fates lines.

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University of Chicago Magazine, Alumni Essay. Pages 52 – 53 (Sept/Oct 2014).

Rattling south on Chicago’s ‘L’ with my daughter and 200 pounds of her stuff wedged into six suitcases, I wish Lyda would turn and say she’ll miss me. With her phone pressed to the window, she snaps pictures of Big City possibilities instead, and finger-flicks them to friends. Wrigley Field’s rooftop bleachers. Snap. Swish. A river that runs green for St. Paddy’s Day. Snap. Swish. She’s already left me, I realize; her body’s just waiting to catch up after I drop her at college for the first time. I dread the reverse journey, me alone on the train racing to O’Hare to catch a Tucson-bound flight.

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Passages North. Pages 119-122 (Winter/Spring, 2011) and read by Monica Nordeen on Public Radio 90 (WNMU-FM), May 7, 2014 @ 0935.

My mother talks to plants. I’ve heard her coo to dinner plate-sized peony blossoms, thanking them, as if they put on the show just for her. Walking the garden path towards the assisted living facility where she now lives, I imagine what she would say to the landscaping. Most likely it would be “you poor, poor thing,” her hand gently caressing a juniper ruthlessly clipped into a soldiers-at-attention cone. I pass under a lollipop-shaped birch tree, its boughs tortured into an immobile sphere, and recall her once staring in awe at her own garden, pointing to the branches of a Japanese maple swaying in the breeze, asking me to stand beside her and see how the light flickered through its crimson leaves.

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Dream House

SLAB, Issue 4. Pages 139-144 (2009).

When it comes to remodeling, many couples argue about decorating styles or cost. Our conflict was different. David idled in apathy and I rushed into obsession. For two years I devoured interior decorating magazines and planned the renovation of our historic home.  Multi-colored Post-it Notes poked from the stacks of books and magazines on my nightstand—a rainbow of dreams. I tried not to notice my husband’s glazed-over expression when I discussed the house, hoping that once renovation was underway, David would show some interest in the process.

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The Memory Box

Stone’s Throw Magazine. Vol. 4 (2010).

It was a mid-October Tuesday when I learned that we exist merely as trinkets and gene fragments. Nothing more. My husband, Peter, and I shared high-time dreams during our journey to Tucson’s Cancer Center for his second round of chemotherapy. He talked of his soon-to-be-completed novel, his passion for fishing, the tip of Long Island. Peter wanted to show Lyda, our year-and-a-half old daughter, fishermen in their Boston Whalers hauling in bay scallops and halibut with the morning tide. He wanted to show her where he grew up. I spoke of upcoming holidays, roast turkey, pumpkin pie, dolls wrapped in colorful paper, a noble fir adorned with shiny glass balls.

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Fruitcake Mission

Thanksgiving to Christmas: A patchwork of stories, edited by Dixon Hearne. Pages 39-43 (2009).

I perch on the kitchen’s wooden stool with a note pad in front of me.  The smell of cinnamon, nutmeg, and baking bread fills the kitchen; the scent envelops me like a velvet cloak.  Outside the picture window, trees sway in the wind, crimson and gold maple leaves flutter to the ground.  Like the damp earth, my counter is also splattered with color:  brown sugar, tawny spices, red cranberries, green pistachios.  It’s fruitcake baking season.  A torn page from a magazine leans cockeyed against the window sill.  The paper is yellowed and my handwriting noting alterations to the ingredients crawls through butter stains.  It doesn’t matter; I know the recipe by heart.

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