Blog post ~ March 2018

Looking Homeward

Sandy Rothenberg and I grew up together in Warren, Pennsylvania, where our families shared a mountain.

On Fridays, Sandy and I, and her younger sister, Sherry, huddled together during Fright-Night television. We  ate orange after orange, the velvety pith, then the rinds themselves. We wouldn’t allow ourselves the indulgence of potato chips and chocolate bars. Like our mothers, we were always on a diet. We built insect hotels out of twigs and twine and chicken wire, then rescued  water bugs, drowning in chlorine, from the pool. Or expiring flies from the old horse barn, and ants and grasshoppers, their tentacles slowing from jive to tango. We mainly killed them with our attentions, but occasionally one or two would rally and get better, and we would pretend to be happy about releasing our patients into their punishing habitat. 

Our antics went on for years, to divert us from three family divorces, one sister’s loss of a baby boy, a brother’s institutionalization, the deaths of both sets of parents, and the death of another brother. Our lives unfolded and diverged. I left Warren and Sandy stayed, and our friendship, due mainly to distance, crystallized into the annual Christmas card, then dissolved into an occasional nostalgic email. 

Sandy turned her attention to photography, which I remember her playing with as a kid. Maybe she was trying to make sense of a perplexing period of her life by injecting herself into the same activity that once intrigued her as a child. Maybe that’s what we all do. We want to re-write the past because we didn’t like the first draft. Or we never got over or beyond it.  Isn’t that the addiction of horses?--to let us be kids again? And shouldn’t that be what all passion must do? (“The child is father of the man.”) My parents expected me to take piano lessons as a kid; after all, there was a tradition of musicians in the family. My mother was a harpsichordist and pianist; my grandmother once sang and acted on the London Stage. I loathed nearly every minute of it. 

Seeing on Facebook some of Sandy’s vibrant photos of blue birds, I emailed her my idea of joining our passions. She promptly sent me a stash of bats. These photos are exquisite in their ability to transmogrify human feeling to bats. I had a sense that I would have to get up very, very close for a very long time to catch these winged mice with their beady, though astonishingly-kind eyes, that radiated so much human emotion--fear, contentment, anger, desire. This was before I had the idea of pairing the bats with the Bach Partita I had been slowly learning to play and memorize for over two years. Long before “Vampire’s first line came to me: “A tiny fist I prod open/with a stick.” 

Julia's poem "First Tomato" is a finalist for the 2018 Edna St. Vincent Millay Poetry Prize in The Tishman Review. 

 "A Beautiful Day to be Buried," was the 2015 Consequence Magazine Poetry Award winner.

Writer and blogger Matthew J. Hall gives a wonderful review of Take This Spoon on his website, Screaming With BrevityRead the review here.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Linda Michel-Cassidy for Why There Are Words.

Many thanks to Linda, and to Peg Alford Pursell for graciously hosting John, Barrett, and me at the Why Are There Words series in Sausalito last month.

Be sure to check out this interview as it originally appeared on Why Are There Words, and all the other wonderful interviews there as well.