How to Put On Red Lipstick

How to put on red lipstick
Now, Sugar, she said, you don’t have to make it so difficult or be so intimidated by the color. You own that color, it does not own you, she said, as if one could or would be intimidated by a shiny three-inch tube of creamy scarlet pigment. You hold your mouth like this—pouting—or like this—pursing—or like this—smiling a gargoyle’s smile, lips stretched taut over a line of Chiclet teeth. Personally, she said, I think that a relaxed mouth is a receptive mouth, and wearing red lip lacquer demands a receptive frame of mind. Red is not for the shy ones—and nether is ruby, or crimson, or cherry, she said, so it is important to take ownership of that tube like you mean it. You know that phrase, “Go hard, or go home?” That’s how it is with saturated color—you have to commit.

So, she said, you uncap the gold tube, and check your color—very important, make sure your mood and your mouth are in accord with one another. Harmony is the goal here. Once you are satisfied that the lipstick is the right shade exactly and therefore your friend, you twist the bottom potion to expose the creamy stick—don’t twist too much now, or that lipstick will snap right off and drop on the cleanest thing in the surrounding environment, which will forever tell the tale of you mishandling your lipstick, which is quite a trial. No, just a half inch—no more, I mean it—will do.

Now, she said, as we approach application, a steady hand is imperative, because women with a smear—no, a slash—of crimson across their faces look cheap and disorganized. No, precision is key, so if you have had too much coffee and have the shakes or if you are freezing and have the shivers, adjust yourself accordingly. Let me show you, she said, bending her arm at the elbow and bracing it on the tabletop. See? Steady, solid as Gibraltar’s Rock, not going anywhere but where you exactly want it to go. Begin with your lower lip—decide here, commit, and remember if you are going left to right or right to left, and make sure you do it the exact same way every time, because that is the only way to get really good at it. Personally, I like to work from the outer corner of my lower lip—more pouting—to the central meridian of my mouth, thus covering half a lip at a time. This, she said, makes for more control and precision than a single line of application, especially because lipsticks tend to be somewhat straight of form, and if you have that kind of lips, straight, you know, you look kind of mean. Last thing you want your lipstick to be is uninviting—I mean what is the point? Why bother, if your lips don’t say, “Come hither. Now.”

Once you have lightly pressed your crimson or ruby or scarlet to your lower lip— and we will talk about the critical elements of perfect color selection, blue-red or orange undertones, another time—back up a little from the mirror and make sure you are coloring within the lines. If you’re good, smack those lips together to deposit some of the bottom lip’s crimson on the top lip, giving you a more balanced appearance while warming up to the real thing, additional color deposits on both the bottom and the top lip. Be careful when you smack those lips of yours that you don’t get them spit wet, because your lipstick will not glide—trust me on this—smoothly over a watery surface. In fact, spit repels lipstick, and that is, after all, counterproductive.

Now you have laid the foundation, she said, and you are ready to build upon it. Go big and hard, and push that scarlet spike against those lips—top and bottom, one more time, being very careful, again, to color within the lines. Eventually you’ll get good at this, when you’ve grown up some, perhaps when you are my age.  

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1724 Hits


I have decided that my dead mother
lives in another place
called Timbuktu.  I write her personal
letters on lacy stationery telling
her how her hometown has changed.

Every storefront is occupied.  There is a Vietnamese
restaurant next to the newly furbished hotel.
When they lived there, Mom and Dad, they couldn’t
even find a pizza place.  Dad had to hang out
in the tractor store to hear some manly banter.

No Lowes, no Home Depot. They did not exist.
No tattoo parlor, nail salon or micro-dermal
piercing palace, puncturing wherever you want.

Would mom have fancied a naval ring?
Would she have ordered pho?
Or would she have put her foot down,
yeah, Mom. Turned her back on
“Try Yoga, first time free.”

Would she have sounded off
to the street corner guru,
asked for Sugar Pebbles at the Whole
Food Store?  “Dear Mom”, I write,
“remember Gerty’s Grocery?  How we
laughed because it only carried
one brand of beer, soda, soap.”
But we got used to it. No
decisions, no stress.

Mom, Gerty sold out to Taco Bell.  

Who is minding the store?
  1590 Hits
1590 Hits

A Woman's Litany

I need the world.

    This divine creation
    of light separated from darkness,
    dry land separated from eternal waters
    to test my spirit and
    temper my soul.

I need the world.

    This bright, shining blue marble
    cast against the infinite blackness
    to overwhelm my imagination
    with its grandeur and

I need the world.

    This solid rock
    upon which I stand
    to anchor my dreams and aspirations.

I need the world.

    This vessel of converging waters
    to flow life
    from rivers to seas
    through semen into wombs
    out birthing canals.

I need the world.

    This pulsing blue-green organism
    coursing through with vegetation
    and sweet flowing streams
    to feed my hunger and quench my thirst.

I need the world.

    This living sanctuary
    home to creatures
    great and small,
    wild and tame,
    familiar and strange.

I need the world.

   This human garden
    where both good and evil reside
    to cradle my innocence and
    nurture my wisdom.

I need the world.

    This secure haven
    shared with my love who
    wipes my tears and salves my wounds
    hears my voice, listens to my stories,
    laughs loud and long, strokes my hair,
    massages my back, tickles my feet,
    kisses my lips, arouses my moist vital place.

At my end, I need the world.

    This great fertile womb
    engorged with transforming juices
    to accept these tired bones
    from one life all used up
    and to create once again.
  1710 Hits
1710 Hits

Considering the Crap in the Basement

after Robert Frost’s “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening”

Whose crap is this?  I know, I know;
It hails from somewhere down below
Where mousies prowl and spiders spin
And nary a human dares to go.

But go we did, my boxes to get
In other places each to set.
There must be at least a hundred more;
Keep on, keep on, we’re not done yet!

They fill the rooms and line the halls,
Block the doors and climb the walls
To such a hideous dizzying height;
They threaten those who rise at night.

Down the steps then up we climb,
Time after time after time after time,
Till finally we see bare floor
And one poor mouse that breathes no more.

My kids have tired of seeing what’s hid
In every box, 'neath every lid
“T’is junk!” they cry then flounce away.
They will not help; they will not stay

To see me deal with such a mess
How long it will take is anyone’s guess,
But all this crap I cannot keep,
Boxes to go before I sleep,
Boxes to go before I sleep.

This poem was written during March 12'16 Write Saturday and is  published here due to popular demand.
  1610 Hits
Recent Comments
Melissa Fischer
I am so glad you posted this.
Thursday, 17 March 2016 18:07
Kappa Waugh
thanks for posting!
Sunday, 20 March 2016 19:13
1610 Hits

Responding to Writing in Workshop

All writing is treated as fiction.

No criticism, suggestion, or questions are directed toward the writer in response to first-draft writing.

Do not respond by recalling a memory or story. If the memory is a strong one, then write the story and share it with workshop writers.

Do not address the writer as you, as if the voice of the speaker, the storyteller, the narrator of the writing is the same person as the one workshop reader/writer; instead, say the narrator or name the characters. This is our practice even when the writing is written in the first person, I, even when the writer tells us it is true or autobiographical.

Do not refer to a character as a real person rather than an imagined character, for example a family member, such as the character my mother, is not the writer’s mother, ie. your mother. She is the mother character.

Do not recall all your thoughts and feelings. Limit your response to one or two aspects of the writing that stood out for you. Leave room for others to comment.

Writing that has newly come from the pen of a writer should be listened to with care. New writing is as fragile and raw as a newborn and should be treated as respectfully, as tenderly.

•    Do not make overt or subtle suggestions for change.
•    Do not tell one’s own story, ie. This reminds me when I…
•    Do not question
•    Do not express doubt or disbelief
•    Do not describe writing as derivative, overly familiar or clichéd
•    Do not express dislike or disinterest in narrator, voice or character
•    Do not respond with like unless you point to particular words, phrases, actions, etc.

What is helpful is to listen to the writer, then give back what you remember, what stays with you. Each writer is finding his or her way to voice. It cannot be coerced, and it cannot be given form or shape by anyone else.
                    --adapted from Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and with Others

Suggestions for responding:
  • I remember
  • What is strong
  • What is powerful
  • What is brave
  • What stays with me
  • What moves me
  • What surprises me
Point to specific elements by repeating:

Respond as reader, not a critic:
I understand
I get
I see
I hear
I feel

  1274 Hits
1274 Hits



Women in scarves bowed in the gloom.

            Paint trickles red from the thorny crown

                        and pierced breast of the man on the cross.

The women's own breasts fall then rise

            with the circuit of wooden beads'

                        Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be––

orisons woven through a list of troubles

            felt in the back and the calloused knees––

                        a runaway daughter, a son despised,

a grandchild's leukemia,

            or the husband whose pay won't cover rent

                        drinking it away.

And world-without-end they bow their heads

            in sacred gloom, where rising stones

                        converge in arches groined above––

all that weight held aloft

            as if masons' aspired to lift the world

                        from those upon whom it sits heaviest––

where walls are lined with paintings:

            arrow-bristled, flaming martyrs,

                        Jesus' hand gentle on the woman taken in adultery,

the faithful, rising on rose-rimmed billows,

            angel-flanked souls freed of dark lives,

                        haloed in the ever-after.

The women's voices thrum at "Let Us Pray".

            They strike their breasts at the altar boy's bell,

                        bent in the chill comfort of chant,

mouthing familiar phrases,

            nostrils stung by incense,

                        hands burnish down to skin-smoothed oak

the pew's varnished back

           where they lean for support in this two-legged life,

                        lacking money or love or patience or justice,

whatever they pray for morning and night.

            When the priest invokes transubstantiation

                        with "This is My Body", their bodies,

sore from childwork and housework,

            seek solace in the down-cast eyes above red glass candles,

                        of the Virgin, whose only son died

young–– for compassion, for intercession––

            she whose unflinching plaster and paint

                        witness daily with cool regard

re-enactment of what would turn

            any mother's eyes to glass,

                        any mother's heart to stone,

and seek to emulate her meek acceptance: God's will

                        to forfeit her only son

                                    on a stony hill

for an unruly and murderous race.

            They beseech her for relief

                        to compacted, calcified spines,

pray for the souls of dead parents, and of babies

            unbaptised in limbo, and to forgive

                        own their failures

to live like Jesus, the saints, and the martyrs.

            They try to frame their troubles in this life

                        as suffering paid out to amend their fallen state

and carve a path to heaven through ritual celebration

            of a god into man crucified.

                        After the priest proclaims,

"Go, you are dismissed." they respond

            without thought, "Thanks be to God"

                        and take hearts lightened by ritual

and submission to mystery

            back to the street, the office, the grocery store,

                        and home for which they are truly thankful

feeling somewhat guided if not at all sure

            that prayers that rose from their hearts' tongues

                        will clear stone arches and be heard.


Timothy Brennan


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  1 Comment
Recent comment in this post
Wallkill Valley Writers
I like this even better seeing it in written. There may be one or two places where the constraints of web settings may have distor... Read More
Friday, 11 March 2016 18:53
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1 Comment

Mardi Gras Indians

Mardi Gras day at the break of dawn
warriors pour onto the street in beautiful form.
This is their day so they must hurry.
Cares are forgotten; there is no worry.

Spy boys run with flags waving high
do their duty with lots of pride,
chanting loudly Indian ditties
as they wind their way through the city.

Chieftains dressed so fine and neat
with large feather crowns from head to feet.
Satin, silk and beads to suit their style,
one glance of them is worth your while.

Braves line the street dressed so pretty.
Mardi Gras lasts only a day – what a pity!
Primitive beauty at a  fleeting glance,
watch as they prepare for the Indian dance.

Tambourines beating savagely all the while,
they sing and dance in war like style.
Bowing, kneeling and leaping in the air,
Chock-a-ma-fi-na sung everywhere.

Little boys eyes open wide
when Mardi Gras Indians walk by.
Holding tight to their mother’s hands,
every one loves the Mardi Gras Indian bands.

--Lucy Francois Hymes

Mardi Gras 2016 is February 9. Mardi Gras Indians have a long history in New Orleans and have been a part of Mardi Gras celebrations for generations. My mother, Lucy Francois Hymes, experienced Mardi Indian culture as a child coming of age in New Orleans. A high-light of Mardi Gras for the Hymes family was walking or driving through back-a-town in search of Indians and King Zulu. This was back in the day when neither group was permitted to parade on any downtown streets. This poem captures my mother's memories of Mardi Gras Indians.
  1861 Hits
Recent Comments
Tim Brennan
Thanks for reminding me of this poem, Kate. I experience the looking up and excitement, especially that of a child, waiting to sig... Read More
Saturday, 06 February 2016 16:02
Melissa Fischer
It's wonderful to read a poem by Lucy after hearing so many stories of her as a child and young woman. Thank you for posting this!... Read More
Sunday, 13 March 2016 00:11
Barbara Edelman
Thanks for sharing your mom's writing; you're so lucky to have some of your mother's writing. See you on Wednesday.
Saturday, 06 February 2016 20:25
1861 Hits

Four, Five, Six, Seven

I am four.
Morning stars are singing
as my mother whips me.
My cowboy belt strikes
across the air, churning
dust motes through the light.
For a surprise, God alights
to stand with me; neither
of us cries.  In my house
courage is admired.

I am five.
Exiled to my grandparents
because my mother’s crazy,
or I’m bad.  Who cares.
I’ve learned to read, and the world
flops open, a loose-limbed book
of wonder.  Giotto in Life
paints a black devil lurking while
the hand of God pierces the sky.
Anguished angels at the Crucifixion
show me how to grieve.

I am six.
Riding through the dark night to
front seat murmurs from my mother
and her lover.  I crank the window down
shout hymns at the winter air.
When my snot runs too fast for singing,
I pull back in, shut out the wind.
Huffed breath mists the glass so my
trigger finger can draw hearts:
KSA plus G for God.

I am seven.
In the convent school I’ve told
Sister Claire my family’s
Holy Catholic, not Roman,
and Sister has explained to the
whole third grade that all my family
will burn in hell for ever.
And ever. After an eternity of terror
and regret I hear the sigh
of God, who knows better.
  2176 Hits
2176 Hits

wVw 2015 Anthology

wVwAnthology2015FrontCover2"These works expose the dark undersides of life with vibrant, strong imagery, a range of memorable personae and voices, and compelling visions. There is the speaker in Tim Brennan’s “The Urge,” who mediates on the costs of war and revolution for the young, and in her creative nonfiction work, filled with raw, precise detail (that gives us a time and place), Colleen Geraghty creates a child narrator, hyperaware and sensitive, who views the “slime,” “the losing time,” the waste, violence, and abuse of women in her Irish childhood. And yet the works affirm the possibility of hope and do so eloquently.  Perhaps Kate Hymes’s injunction in her poem, “Believe, “ best embodies the subtle strengths of this anthology:  “Hold within you the knowing/ Wounds are possibilities/ Made manifest at the edge-tip/ Of scratchy pens and sharpened tongues.” 
--Jan Zlotnik Schmidt, Distinguished Professor of English, SUNY New Paltz

Bythema Bagley
Claudia Battaglia
Tim Brennan
Gloria Caviglia
Susan Chute
Meg Dunne
Barbara Edelman
Kim Ellis
Jeanne-Marie Fleming
Allison Friedman
Colleen Geraghty
Kate Hymes
Barbara Martin
Linda Melick
Barry Menuez
RoseMarie Navarra
Jennifer "Jen" Roy

Purchase copies at, or directly from wVw for $8.00 (email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.).
  2586 Hits
2586 Hits



Just how did those Mystics do it?

Sacrificing, tortured souls

Eyes pointed heavenward to avoid temptation?

While we mere mortals struggle and yet so easily fall

Our confessions for all to see:

An empty box of Girl Scout Thin Mint™ cookies
  1934 Hits
Recent Comments
Wallkill Valley Writers
Thin Mints were always my weak spot. I was one of the GS Moms who volunteered to distribute cookies. I would have boxes and boxes ... Read More
Tuesday, 28 April 2015 21:11
Melissa Fischer
Even reading this brings back the tantalizing smell of Thin Mints.
Wednesday, 06 May 2015 11:56
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Shopping in New Paltz

It’s a sweet little village with mountains in view
There are bistros, and cafès, and much you can do.
You can climb up a mountain, swim in a lake,
See an eagle, an egret, a bear and a snake.
The Sincere Pumpkin Patch you will find here,
And leaves in the autumn are beyond compare
We have writers and actors and artists galore
But one thing we don’t have is a General Store.
You can’t get a curtain, a teapot, a blind,
And umbrellas and beach balls you never will find.
No pocketbook, wallet, no change purse, no hat,
No nightgown, no bathrobe, no baseball, no bat,
Not a high chair, a beach chair, a bench or a stool,
Not a towel, a sheet, colored thread on a spool.
No sticker, no sweater, no glove for the snow,
No bedspread, no pillow, no trumpet to blow.
Not a fabric, a scissors, a pattern for fitting,
A doghouse, a bird house, or needles for knitting.
No cloth for your table, no bra and no stocking,
No curtain rod, bath mat, nor chair made for rocking,
If you’re troubled, we have sixty therapists here,
But you can’t buy a clothespin in New Paltz—nowhere.
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  1 Comment
Recent comment in this post
Site Admin
I can't help but wonder if there is a link between no sundries and the need for all that therapy. Also: no decent pickles!... Read More
Thursday, 16 April 2015 16:34
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1 Comment


Full teacup
Wet teaspoon
One blue plate
One thin moon

Full teacup
One long night
Two bare feet
One bare light

Full teacup
Weathered floor
Three green chairs
One shut door

Full teacup
Empty room
One white pill                        
One thin moon
  2387 Hits
2387 Hits

Maybe a Love Poem

My fingers know the tideline where mustache meets lip
like sea grass giving way to sand.
The fine hairs on my cheek dip in the wind of his easy breath.
My hand remembers the warm, solid back of him,
as sure as sunrise and sliced apples.
My heart laughs at all the years I struggled
to keep my bricks and sheetrock strong
so no mortar crumbled,
so need could not escape,
nor dependence enter.
My soul learned that surrender
is as simple as sand.
  2107 Hits
2107 Hits


We had magic.
We had youth.
We had bodies as supple as saplings.

The choir called us and we sang.
The red earth held us and we touched the morning stars.
The velvet night hugged us close
and we rested in soft oblivion.

We had magic.
We had youth.
We had bodies that flowed like water.

The trees shadowed us while we danced.
The sun spangled the dew on our hair.
The ocean offered us its bounty
and we were fed.

We had magic.
We had youth.
We had bodies of bone and tendon
and innocence.

We had magic.
  2108 Hits
2108 Hits

Every Fluted Glass

Barry Menuezbelieves that the wVw community has given him support and encouragement to shape memory and experience into stories. He is retired from a long career in community organizing and urban/rural development programs. Barry has written a 26 word abecedarian.

Every Fluted Glass

Another billionaire

contributer donated

every fluted glass

hoisted in joyful knowledge

luxury means no old people

questions regarding senility

topics using vernacular words

xlosic yeasty zestful

  1854 Hits
1854 Hits

Above the Cove

Timothy Brennan is a poet, painter and woodworker who has lived and worked in San Francisco, in Brooklyn, and now New Paltz, where he has been renovating his old house for over twenty years with no end in sight. Tim's abcedarian is a 26 line version.

Above the Cove

Above the cove
Battered by shifting winds,
Clouds change faces,
Divert the sun's
Flickering off wave-tops like the
Glass shards of smashed bottles.
Heavily-armed children,
Incandescent fish-lines
Jigged for flounder and tautaug,
Kill without remorse––
Lancing puff-ball blowfish
Mothers' egg-filled bellies––
Nascent life left to wriggle
On the pier, to dry in the sun.
Poles are sunk into shallows where
Quahauggers tie their boats, where
Razor-clams, mussels, and blue crabs flee
Seagulls in the boats' shadows.
Terra firma slides out of sight
Under clear waves the sea pulses–– a
Ventricle to earth's heart-rhythm
Where giving and feeding, water
Extracts from the drowned boy his
Yang, his years of expectation, and his en-
  1824 Hits
1824 Hits

Barbara's Best in the World Pound Cake

Barbara Martin brought her best in the world, passed down through the generations, pound cake to our book-making on June 10, 2012. In response to popular demand, she is sharing the recipe with the wVw community. It is indeed good eats!


1 lb butter
3 cups sugar
4 cups flour
6 eggs
1 teas vanilla extract
1 teas lemon extract(OR almond OR rum depending on what your taste is or if you want to experiment. I use either lemon or rum)
1/2 teas baking powder (If using sweet butter, add 1/2 teas salt.)
1/2 cup milk

Cream butter and sugar really well. Take as much time with this as you can. Add vanilla and lemon extract. mix well. Now add, alternately, two eggs for each cup of flour. (Sifting flour twice will give a lighter cake.) For last cup of flour, add milk. Mix well, but do not over beat. Batter should be smooth. Pour into a tube pan. Place in a COLD oven then set oven to 350 degrees. Cake should be done in one hour or more depending on your oven. Cake is done when tooth pick in cake comes out clean. Then welcome to cholesterol heaven!! Enjoy!

Barbara Martin

Barbara left us great stories and the a recipe for the best pund cake in the world. Try it! You'll love her cake as much as WVW writers loved Barbara.

  2270 Hits
Recent Comments
Site Admin
Hi Barbara, I enjoyed your cake and so did my husband!!! When the weather gets cooler I know he will do his best to duplicate it b... Read More
Thursday, 21 June 2012 01:17
Gloria Caviglia
I made this cake for a crowd last weekend, and in the words of my grandmother, they were licking themselves in contentment! Thank ... Read More
Thursday, 21 June 2012 01:42
2270 Hits


My green fluids retreat. I have

loved and nurtured. I have known

drought and cold. I survived

storms and flaming summer heat. Extremes

made my growing season rich.

Life happened, my roots grew, secured

their tendrils deep in delta

stories and poetic rhythms

of black and unknown bards.

Words my mother

planted like seeds.

My green fluids retreat, what remains

essence of essence adorned in royal

colors: glorious gold, radiant red, outrageous

orange. I am grand. I am vibrant.

I am brilliant. My fruit

Is swollen and ripe.

  1849 Hits
1849 Hits


This is the introduction that I wrote for an unpublished anthology that I edited with by Pat Schneider, Director Emeritus, Amherst Writers and Artists.  All That I Remember:  Black and White Women Remember Race Before the Birmingham Bus Boycott are the stories of women who recall race lived intimately, yet separate.

I am posting this because renewed interest in the relationships of black and white women as a result of Kathryn Stockett's novel, The Help.  Even in this Obama era in which some pat themselves on the back and proclaim we are now post-racial.  It is race that causes us to slow down, become a traffic jam of gawkers as we stare from behind our safety glass determined, yet hopeful, not to witness the pain and suffering we cause when we collide.

I remember 1955 as a world of school and home. I turned eight years old only weeks before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. I remember third grade, Miss Woods, the brown weatherboards of McDonough #32, the asphalt playground and the deadly merry-go-round where my classmates and I learned the physics of centrifugal force as five older boys ran alongside and pushed the iron frame with all their might: our lessons marked with skinned knees, scraped palms and bumps to the head.

I remember a classroom with blond wooden desks and chairs. The first row was snug against Miss Woods’ desk, while the last row of chairs scraped against the bulletin board causing the construction paper edging to sag. Above our heads and out of reach of curious fingers, Miss Woods thumb-tacked our successes, emblazoned with 100’s in the two-inch header space above our chunky, innocent letters.

I remember 1728 Hendee Avenue, the white house with red trim, the two-bedroom miracle my parents bought on Daddy’s GI bill. I shared a bedroom with two younger sisters. At bedtime, Mama entertained us with the adventures of Bre’r Rabbit and Bre’r Bear. We giggled at her dramatic recitation of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “De Party.” Just before she flicked the light switch, she knelt beside our beds, showed us how to clasp our hands and pray the Lord would keep us through the night.

In the morning, Mama fed us hot oatmeal in her bright yellow kitchen. When I stepped outside 1728, I walked into a vibrant world, richly black. Friday night fish fry’s honky-tonked into Saturday mornings and raised enough money to make the next month’s mortgage payment. Saturdays, we watched Momma “do” heads and unwrap row after row of tight, shiny coils from the metal prongs of curling irons. Sunday mornings, girls in frilly sherbert-colored dresses, and boys in dark pants and white shirts, each family loaded into its own car and drove to Sunday school or mass. I remember a neighborhood where Mamas stayed home with babies, while Daddys went off to work as longshoremen or mailmen or shipbuilders. That was Truman Park, four square blocks of post-World War II working class, black suburbia.

What I don’t remember are those other folks, the white people. We saw them as gray apparitions on our black and white TV, we saw them as we drove through their neighborhoods on our way to church or to visit cousins, we saw them masked and sequined riding Mardi Gras floats. I knew about them from stories, from gossip, from bits and pieces of information I gathered when I eavesdropped on Mama’s conversations with her sisters and friends. Sometimes Mama talked about the lady she worked for when she was a teenager. Most often, she chased us from the room when the conversation turned to white folks and their business.

Between the overheard conversations and being chased away when grown folks talked, I came to understand that my aunts worked in the homes of white families. My Aunt Lillian lived much of her adult life in another woman’s kitchen, cooking, cleaning, and caring for the children. She was there for all their gatherings, every birthday, every anniversary, every graduation. She ironed the white cotton handkerchiefs before every funeral, then washed them clean of tears and grief. Her knowledge of that family was so intimate she knew what they wanted and needed before they did.

A strange intimacy existed between black and white women in segregated America. A strangeness passed down generation-to-generation, from the “peculiar institution” through the strange career of Jim Crow and made manifest by strange fruit hangin’ in the  poplar trees. It is a strangeness that estranges us from one another. Strange as though our history baffles us, as though we cannot recall honest words to tell our stories.

Many American women warily eyed each other from opposite sides of the ironing board. The smoldering heat scorched both feminism and womanism. Black women swiftly learned that, although feminists traced their activism to the abolitionist and civil rights movements, we were not sisters. So, sisters did their own womanist thing, while some feminists marched for equal rights with confidence knowing that a black woman was home caring for her children. This anthology is neither a feminist or a womanist tract, or the saga of domestics and their ladies. It is an occasion for us all to hang brave banners on clotheslines.

I want to know the truth behind the strangeness. I am no longer a child. I am fifty years past the time when I needed to be protected from life’s realities. Not unlike the child who hid at the foot of Mama’s bed to eavesdrop on end-of-the-day phone conversations, I still want to know, to understand the secrets, what happened when women left their homes and communities for work or school or shopping or medical treatment in the world of the other. I want finally to hear the stories about white folks business. I want them straight on, in broad full daylight with every corner illuminated. I want to hear the stories in black and white, like the black and white of old celluloid movies whose projected light on living-room-wall size theater screens illuminated sharply defined places and all the shadows in between.

Pat Schneider made the shadows stark when I heard her read in a writing workshop. She wrote about what she called the Missouri Compromise, her personal experience of making a faustian choice. As a young woman, she had to choose between a church-sponsored college scholarship, her path out of poverty, and being a friend and mentor to a black child when she was told never to bring that child to services again. Her choice left her spirit torn and pained, just as the historical compromise set the stage for a civil war whose wounds have yet to heal. Pat’s piece was my first time hearing white pain associated with race, about something being broken in a white person because they could not live fully human in a racially divided society.

Pat and I talked about how many stories there must be of women, black and white, who lived race before 1955. We wanted stories from all across the country north and south, east and west. We wanted to capture them all from domestic workers and their ladies to activists like Rosa Parks. We decided to grit our teeth and accept the politically incorrect stories as well. It was a politically incorrect time and women hurt one another in both conscious and unconscious ways. Even so, they were there for one another, helping one another through life’s hard times. Often they cried over the same losses and rejoiced over the same victories, but couldn’t/wouldn’t eat with the other at the same table.

We speculated that these women had not told their stories, much like the World War II veterans who kept hidden from family and friends what it was like in battle. This was a generation who wanted to put the past behind them, didn’t believe their lives constituted history in any case. I am a baby-boomer, the tell-it-all, let it all hang-out generation. I believe the personal is political. I believe that unless we know our history we are doomed to repeat it. I believe that stories can help heal, make us whole.

The conversation across race created by this anthology is long overdue and one that will soon be lost to time. It is a conversation that might have happened if women had trusted one another, believed in one another as fully human beings.

What I have learned in reading the manuscripts is that it is not an easy conversation. What I have read sometimes made me so angry, I wanted to quit this work. At other times, I wanted to quit because I couldn’t stand the sadness and pain. Sometimes Pat and I howled with laughter at the absurdities unconsciously, unknowingly revealed by sincere writers. I learned that having a heart in the right place means little if its contents are unexamined.

Despite my personal longings, misgivings and inhibitions, these first-hand stories of how it was to live race and be a woman need to be told, so I continued to read. Pat and I read over three hundred manuscripts. The first to arrive, as a result of an ad in Poets and Writers, were overwhelmingly submissions by white women. Many of the stories were lovingly told memories of black women who cared for and protected, sometimes from their own parents, these women as children. As a child I remember my aunts boarding busses in the dim morning light to ride to the homes of those children and I must confess until I read these stories I never thought about them.

In my world, my cousins, left behind, were the focus of attention. I never considered that my aunts, or any of those women in their white uniforms, might love those children, so I was surprised by the depth and intensity of feeling portrayed. I gained a new respect for the superwomen who had the capacity to love, care for and protect children at both ends of the bus line. By the time I’d done reading, I was angry because so many of the writers abandoned and forgot their “black mothers” as soon as they came of age, went off to college, got married. I can’t comprehend how a beloved mother figure is relegated to memory’s trash heap until an ad in a writers’ journal once again makes her useful. Is that love? Is that what racism does to love?

We spread our net wider, encouraged word of mouth and contacted organizations such as Cave Canem, national retreat and workshop for African American poets. Then we heard from the women, and daughters of the women, who rode those morning busses. Their stories are rarely about love for their little tow-headed charges. They write about the caprice and vindictiveness of their employers. Their daughters were taught that they were never to do this work and that was love. As we placed these stories side-by-side, as if in intimate conversation, the complexity of the combined narrative grew and the questions multiplied in number. What I learned is that the knot that is racism isn’t easily untied.

Our wider net brought us more black writers and a diversity of stories, by black and white writers, about how race was lived before December 1, 1955. We received stories and poems about travel, segregation, employment, friendship, education, and neighborhood and community. Pat and I chose stories that rubbed, for one or both of us, the wound of racism raw and forced us to feel its sting. We wanted honesty. We wanted immediacy of experience. We wanted to feel as though we were seated at a woman’s kitchen table as she poured sweet iced-tea or strong black coffee, shared laughter and tears with a circle of friends made stronger by being there through life’s trial and tribulations. These writers, because of segregation and in spite it, inhabited the same kitchens; we just wanted them to sit down and talk.

Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white man, not the first black person to do so, but the one who helped set all those feet in motion walking and marching up freedom’s road. Much has changed in American society since December 10, 1955. The American color palette has become more varied and rich. This is now a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society. Pat and I don’t want these stories to be lost in the cacophony.

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