Fifty Shores of Grief

I write this the evening of June 12, 2016, the day forty-nine people died in the worst mass public shooting in recent US history.

A few hours before hundreds of people faced unspeakable terror, my husband and I finished the first season of Justified, a series about Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant), a U.S. Marshal who returns to his hometown of Harlan, KY, to help root out the bad guys. Sure, he gets a little trigger happy at times, but he feels “justified” in his attacks. The audience usually agrees.

I like the show. It’s entertaining and witty, and Olyphant sulks adorably under his cowboy hat.

The Season 1 finale, appropriately called “Bulletville,” reaches a body count of at least a dozen, including one man, Johnny, shot by super bad guy Bo in a sudden act of revenge. He flips back over the porch railing and lies in the shrubbery, stunned, clutching his stomach as he bleeds out the rest of his short life. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “The Grackles” by Betsy Sholl

Poetry Friday Grackles Poem BigHere is a poem that silently enacts a conversion.  The poem starts off with a string of scornful terms for the speaker’s new neighbors, culminating in the almost mean pun on their child’s “grin” as “grim.” But right after this, the speaker begins to soften her terms: she notices a “warmth” in this noisy, dirty, low-class family. Then by the start of the fourth stanza, a switch in point of view has occurred: the speaker sees herself through their eyes. So when the poem’s title image enters (in the inner-rhymed “racket grackles”), the poet intentionally leaves ambiguous whether it’s the speaker or the previously demeaned family who are the bullying grackles. Whoever they are becomes irrelevant, though, in the poem’s closing lines, which focus on the birds themselves. As the sunlight strikes them, the speaker’s previously negative terms for them turn glowingly positive: “they’ve got the spectrum’s full iridescent gleam.” The poem is ultimately suggesting here that whomever or whatever we demean will—when seen in a new light— shine with this richly full gleam.

—Peggy Rosenthal

The Grackles by Betsy Sholl

Down the block, our new neighbors, not unlike
the old, could be named the Grackles, given
the way everything they have is loud: cars,
children, stereos, parties. It all spills out
into the street—broken bikes, pizza boxes,
a nasty looking dog with nothing to restrain it

but the owner’s curse. Giving the mutt wide berth,
stepping around a rusty bike rim, I glance
at the weary-looking man, the angry woman,
sullen teen, younger girl with a smudged grin.
Grim, it seems. But there’s a warmth here, too,
the father teaching his son to make the car

loud by tweaking something on the exhaust,
as the mother spit-washes the baby’s face,
laughs through smoke and sunken eyes
at her barefoot daughter’s new skip rope trick.
When the son grabs the dog’s collar—sorry
the stupid pooch frightened me—I watch him

slowly size up my jog-reddened face,
amused disdain on his for the type I am,
flitting around the block in ragged sweats
as if life’s a matter of tips from slick
magazines. Such a racket grackles make,
like castanets, scolding the song birds

they’ve chased up into the trees, giving them
flack for not even trying to bully back. Now
the sun flashes on them its brightest beam,
so it’s clear from light’s point of view,
however drab they may look in the shade
they’ve got the spectrum’s full iridescent gleam.


Betsy Sholl’s most recent book of poems is Otherwise Unseeable (Wisconsin). She teaches in the MFA program of Vermont College of Fine Arts and was poet laureate of Maine from 2006 to 2011.

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Fairies and Mystics

F‏irefliesOn the first day of summer, my daughter created a makeshift microphone in the backyard with a curved branch stuck into the wet soil. Behind, her younger brother beat on an upturned ice cream bucket with two sticks. They were practicing fairy music, they said, to welcome the fairies on summer solstice.

Three days earlier, we’d made fairy oyle, partly from a recipe in my daughter’s fairy book, and partly, as many good recipes go, a bit of this and a bit of that: A pinch of thyme, a few chamomile flowers, some red clover leaves, and plantain (thrown in for the strength of its elastic leaf structure). The oyle, when put upon the eyelids on the first day of summer, was supposed to make the wearer able to see through a fairy’s glamour. [Read more…]

Praying the Rosary

By Laura Bramon

RosaryMy first rosary is invisible: a string of children’s voices ricocheting off the concrete walls of a slum convent, flying up to God and to the cold gray batting of the Altiplano sky. The children’s eyes are chapped with wind and cold, lines feathered like wings in their brown skin. This gives them a mask of wisdom: as if they can see beyond what I see, as if they can see God.

They see His Mother alive in the tiny concrete woman in the outdoor niche, to whom we herd them so they can bark their prayers. Sweet children, whose soft heads smell of moss and cold, whose breath is warm and gluey with the dried milk we feed them. First, we train the sucker feet of their lips to the tipped cups; we place in their hands the round, fleshy little loaves of bread they rip up and eat.

And then we line them up and walk them out into the sunlight to say the rosary in their backwater Spanish. I stand in their midst and stare at a woman I don’t know, her mantel draped like a crenulated shell, the warmth of the children’s bodies like a shuffling tide lapping at my hands and knees. I learn the prayers from the children’s mouths and we shout them out to her. [Read more…]

Prayer: When You Can’t Find the Words, Make Them Up


I spent much of this past summer watching my friend’s three-year-old girl, Mia, as my friend prepared for the birth of her son. I’d met Mia last year in Boston before her family had all moved back home to Beijing. Now, Mia was in Minnesota, living in an old Saint Paul house where she could watch birds and bunnies from the porch.

The first time I visited, Mia yelled at me and her mom because we were speaking English and she couldn’t understand us. So we agreed that Mia would teach me Chinese and I’d teach her English. We drew sea creatures together and learned their names. When I said something in English that Mia found odd, she yelled the Chinese version of it back to me, putting the long diphthongal vowels of the upper Midwest into the word and then collapsing in giggles.

I don’t understand children very well and am a little scared of them. When Mia moved to the US, I thought of her as something helpless to be carried along by her mom, as if the new culture and the buzz of a befuddling language wouldn’t bother her at all. [Read more…]