Thursday, February 4, 2010


I first started writing directly to Nonnie, to her spirit, hoping that she would enter into a conversation with me, by coming to me in my dreams, into my thoughts, into my heart and inform me of all the things I overlooked as a child. And all the things I have forgotten as an adult. I wrote as a granddaughter.

And then I started writing to Concetta, my daughter, speaking to her as a mother, of all the things I want her to know. What I feel is important. How I want her to view our family’s past, to see her namesake.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Leaving you in the hospital to go to Italy

Youth is when your selfishness is somehow stomached, tolerated,

People say, do it while you are young.

If you have children, it’s difficult to take risks

That is when you are meant to be the protector, to put a curb on your carefree ways.

Nonna, I used to say hello to everyone. Everyone. Just like you. When I first gave birth I stopped saying so many hellos to so many people. I became like a mother bear, suspicious of surrounding strangers.

I didn’t used to think of the world as filled with strangers before. People I hadn’t met yet were still potential friends and acquaintances.

Now that Concetta is turning into a toddler and is interested in making friends, I am regaining my friendly ways, reaching out to the children around us, encouraging her to share her toys and baby dolls, which she hands to them easily waiting for their speech to and facial expressions. She loves to go up to children and say “Hi”. Just like you Nonna.

Everywhere we went together, you would hum and sing quietly and talk in a lilting voice. You always had a kind thing to say to anyone who crossed our path at K-Mart or the grocery store. “What a lovely smile, what a happy color you are wearing” she used to describe inanimate things as happy. This always made me see her as infinitely happy. So it surprised me when my mother told me Nonnie had suffered from depression when she was growing up. Nonnie, you did tell me that you sometimes felt trapped in the house without a car and all those children to care for. Especially after the whole gang of you moved from New York to Texas. That’s how I ended up being a Texan. My mom was just 13 or 14 when she moved here, and she married my Dad when she was 17. My sister and were born immediately after. And the love affair with Nonnie began.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Guide to Literary Agents - ''Dear Lucky Agent'' Contest: Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction

Guide to Literary Agents - ''Dear Lucky Agent'' Contest: Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction

memoir writers, check out this competition!

"Dear Lucky Agent" Contest:

Memoir and Narrative Nonfiction

Welcome to the first "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest on the GLA blog. This will be a recurring online contest with agent judges and super-cool prizes. Here's the deal: With every contest, the details are essentially the same, but the niche itself changes - meaning each contest is focused around a specific category or two. So if you're writing book-length memoir or narrative nonfiction, this first contest is for you!


You can leave your entry in the Comments section of this post, or just e-mail it. Send e-mailed entries to (If using e-mail, paste everything. No attachments.)


The first 200 words of your unpublished, book-length work of memoir, femoir or narrative nonfiction (also called creative nonfiction). You must include a contact e-mail address with your entry and use your real name. Though not mandatory, feel free to submit the title of the work and a logline (one-sentence description of the work) with your entry.

Please note: To be eligible to submit, I ask that you do one of two things: 1) Mention and link to this contest twice through any social media - blogs, Twitter, Facebook, forums, message boards, comments on other blog sites; or 2) just mention this contest once and also add Guide to Literary Agents Blog ( to your blogroll. Please provide link(s) so I can verify eligibility.
Keeping animals and Trichinosis

Dear Nonnie,

Aunt Fran rung the necks of chickens. She cut the main artery in the necks of pigs, letting the blood flow out into a bucket to save for blood pudding. “She knew just where to cut. It was usually at Christmastime, because that is when we would eat the blood pudding. Most people think it sounds disgusting, but they don’t know how delicious it is. Oh what I wouldn’t do for some right now. When it is cooked, it becomes a lot thicker, and she would put the spices in and give it some flavor. It really is quite delicious. It has been a long time since I had such a treat.”

Nonna, your very large family kept many animals you told me. “That is how we made it through the Depression. We never went hungry. We had the garden and we had the animals. Fresh eggs from the chickens, fresh milk from the goats. The goat’s milk saved my life when I contracted the Trichinosis. I drank that everyday to keep my strength up. I am sure that is what saved me. When pork is not cooked properly or thoroughly the germ from the Trich is still alive and can get inside of you.” She often called the disease “Trich”. It took many years of listening to these stories to figure out what Trich was. You told me so much starting when I was very young.

The stories fascinated me, they still do. That’s why I am hurrying to write. Your voice is still in my head, exactly as you told me these things. I want to preserve that voice as best as I can.

Many of your brothers and sisters died before you. But somehow you survived. You were a miracle child. It did not seem that you were strong but you were. Or maybe it was the daily visits from Poppie that saved you.

In bed for a year with trichinosis, Poppie visiting and winning over Aunt Fran and Uncle Phil’s hearts. “They must have seen that he was a good boy, because they let him in to see me. I told him, ‘Why do you come here? Go away! I don’t need your pity.’ But he stayed and kept coming everyday on the bus, out to our house in the Columbia County countryside. We didn’t have a phone. It was a long distance. He said, ‘I don’t have pity.’ He would just sit and talk to me. He had made up his mind that he was going to marry me no matter how many times I said no. I didn’t even know him.”

On Halloween, I sang Salve Regina at our high school. He came outside afterwards to talk to me. I knew he was on the basketball team, and wrote for the newspaper, he was two years older than me. His younger brother Jack had passed away from a burst appendix. But I didn’t him very well. He said that I sung beautifully. Back then we had paper straws to drink with and he took one of those and made it into a ring. He said, “I’m going to marry you,” and he put that paper straw ring on my finger, just like that. I thought, this guy is crazy. I said, ‘You’re crazy. I will not marry you. I am only 17 years old and I am planning on going to school to become a nurse.’ I also had the dream of becoming a nun. I was just a girl. 17 years old. He just repeated, “I’m going to marry you.” I laughed. I didn’t take him very seriously, but he talked about the future and what he was planning. He was going to put a few dollars in the bank and save it for our wedding. He was planning his career as a journalist. He was confident about that.

I remember later on when I was scared about what we would do. We had nothing back then. But he talked me through the finances and how he knew we could make it on his meager salary writing a sports column for the paper. He had plans for getting his Masters, for getting a higher position in Journalism. It was his passion. Always was. He put my mind at ease. In the bank, he put away a few meager dollars , but I knew that it would be okay.

* * *

While I walking down the aisle of St. Mary’s Church, I was thinking, “What the hell am I doing?” I was getting married and I wasn’t sure I wanted to. All those dreams of going to school to become a nurse. Or becoming a nun.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Water Dreams

What is this water that surrounds her

Day and night

And invades my dreams?

How is it she does not drown?

She makes me want

to move fluidly

To get up out of my chair

And flow in ways I have not

For years.

To think in ways

I have not thought before

Without borders to restrict

My reasoning

To reach out to heights and depths

I have only touched in memory

Or in dreams

Or never at all

It is a longing she implants in me

To roll like rain across the countryside

And gently caress the grass

The way she caresses me.

She is bone and flesh

and water

So salty

She sucks at it

imitating her longing to eat

to nourish herself

I can give her nothing except what I give myself.

Is that enough?

We are one and still we are separated by barriers.

I cannot hold her hands in mine, but she touches me with her fingers and toes.

My brain is working independently of hers, but our movements influence one another.

My heartbeat is separate from her own faster beating, but she causes mine to beat harder to provide more blood for her.

My legs and back are stiff, while hers are undulating like a fish.

She sends me dreams of oceans, rivers, pools of water

where I can be held up, where I can defy gravity for a moment.

This is what will pull her from me.

The turning of the earth, and the face of a full moon

Will one day turn her head towards the earth,

towards the surface of the seas

and she will dive into this world

for a moment, amphibian,

and then suddenly a lover of land.
Labor, past and present


What she was

What you will be.

The first, my grandmother

The second, my child

With me in the middle

Cradling both

One in the arms of memory

One in the embrace of the future.

They have the same name,

Though one has transferred to the spirit world

And the other is not yet born.

The two of them will deliver me,

Concetta, meaning Conception.

While she was letting go

of her ability to walk

curled up like an infant in a bassinet,

You are kicking aggressively

Against my engorged abdomen

Like an Olympic swimmer in a baby pool.

When I spoke to her,

At times she could not hear the words spoken

But understood the meaning on my face.

When I speak to you, the language is not important;

Your hand and foot curl against either end of me

In response.

It is the touch

That most impressed

And impresses them both.


Will delivering you

Be as difficult as it was

Delivering her?

The arduous months of holding on

like an animal

Caught in a trap

it could only hope to escape

By losing some part of itself.

The gift of acceptance

coming only after the hollow scream

at her bedside

after exhaustion

from fighting the inevitable.

She had escaped.

Let the acceptance come sooner this time.

Let me not fight

whichever way my daughter chooses to come into this world,

the way I fought how my grandmother chose to leave this world.


You need a lot of patience

To go through all the phases of labor.

You must sit at the side of the bed

And hold her hand

Sing her songs

Apply strong pressure to her back,

Pushing her by centimeters into what’s to come.

She must be able to grip you strongly

You must be able to stand up under such weight

You must look at your watch,

Not to see when this will all be over,

But to help her count,

To measure breaths more than time.

Your love for numbers can be shared now.

Contract for 30 seconds, rest for 5 minutes.

This is only the beginning,

Reserve some energy for the hours to come.

Contract for 45 seconds, rest for 3 minutes.

Keep some strength for the pushing to come.

Contract for minutes, rest for seconds.

Hold onto hope for the life to come.


Death is measured

Watched over



Worried over

Wondered about

Prayed through

Lifted up with our hearts

Into our throats

In ways similar to life.

One woman delivers her mother

Into the next world

And feels as a mother giving birth.

She has labored intensely.

There is a heavy overwhelming ache

And stripes of pain

That cannot be alleviated through an IV.

Afterwards, she hopes for a release

That allows her to walk from the bed to the trees,

To look above and into the skies,

The way her mother looked into her eyes

When she was born.

I hope to feel the birth,

To be aware

To trigger some memory that was my grandmother’s before

And has since been forgotten.

This pain may be a gift

Of understanding

That carries across generations.

Or it may be a stoic dream

That I may not be able to carry.


I cannot start the garden,

Because I cannot bend over,

Cannot dig with a shovel.

The seed has already been sewn.

There will be a greater unearthing soon.


There is a large muscular man

Who insists that I say certain words

To appease his ego,

Or else he will hurt me,

Will beat me up.

I say something defiant

And refuse to change my words.

He replies, “I’ll be back,”

Meaning that the next time he returns

Will be the reckoning moment.

Even though I anticipate his return,

I know I will respond in the same way

Each time.

My father stands as a barrier

Between the muscular man and me.

He does not speak,

But makes it clear by the look in his eye

That this man is not to lay a finger on me.

The muscular man returns again and again

And we repeat the same script.

There are times when he returns in minutes

And times when he returns in seconds

And times when I fear he will actually

be able to take a hold of me and hurt me.

I tense up my body and hold my pregnant belly

With anxiety.

When he leaves each time,

I relax and let go a little more,

Realizing it is my response

That lessens or maximizes his power.