Say His Name

shannon adams 2

I never met Shannon Lewis Adams, but I woke up this morning thinking about him.  I said his name out loud.

On September 11, 2001, he was twenty-five, about the age that my son is now.  A baby, still, his real life just beginning — the one his parents had spent years preparing him for. Nurturing him; encouraging him.  Loving him.

Fly, little bird, they may have thought then.  Go out into the world and see what there is to see.

And Shannon flew.  To a lofty building far from home.

I knew his father.  We grew up in the same small area in the Adirondack mountains of northern New York.  A place where most people are content to spend the whole of their lives.  Lewis Adams had a shy sweet smile that traveled  his face and was reflected in his eyes.  I’ll bet his son Shannon did, too.

I picture a space in the universe where all the lost smiles fled to that bright September day. They are there still.  We need just say a name and the space lights up with love.

Of all the names I know just the one.  But it’s enough.  One name, one face, one smile is all it ever takes to bring us to our knees.  And still we say the name.

Because we can.



On the Way: Window Dressing

I’ve been traveling around England for a little over a week.  Today I’m in London.  My husband and I have logged some miles walking and today was windy and cool, so I wanted to head back to our hotel early.  On the way we walked past Selfridges.  Some of the window arrangements caught my eye, and for a few minutes I forgot about being tired and cranky.

This spring we watched the weekly PBS presentation of Mr. Selfridge.  I imagine that Harry Selfridge would approve of this display for the Apple iWatch.  I love how all the elements of this design — the butterflies changing color and suspended from thin filaments, the watches on pedestals rising from the bottom — meld with the reflections of sky and the wonderful glass building across the street to create something quite fanciful.


Into the woods

creepy woods 2

I’m off on an adventure, but I’ll be back soon.  You may wait in the heart of the Night-Light Forest while I’m away.  It’s lovely here.  If you squint your eyes, you can just make out the shadowy figures of creatures who are too shy to show themselves.  They hum the same soft tune and sway to the music they make.  The light show was created for them.  They love the lights — O glorious light!  Magnificent bursts of phosphorescence; the sky is awash with color.

If you chose to spend time here, be respectful.  No hooting and hollering lest you disturb the serenity.  Don’t trod on anyone’s feet.  Feel free to hum along, though, once you’ve deciphered the tune. If you must snack, pick up after yourself.  And if you happen to see Betsy, tell her the thing she most wants to know is skulking around here somewhere.

I’ll see you all when I return.  If you’re good I may bring you a little something.  Maybe chocolate, maybe not.  It’s a surprise.

Everyone loves a surprise.

A poem in every pocket

poem in every pocket

Today is National Poem in Your Pocket Day.  I love that this is a thing now.  I love poems, all manner of them, short, long, rhyming, oblique.  Each poem is a wrapped piece of candy I can never get enough of.  The idea of NPIYPD is that you carry a poem in your pocket to share with others.  I didn’t leave my house today, so I’ll use this post as my pocket.

A Poem in Every Pocket

Imagine a plaza
where some people sit on squat pedestals,
and some people are
talking/walking/milling about,
but all are carrying this secret:
that their pockets are filled
with poems only they
know all the words to.

Mary Pierce

That is my little poem.  It is also my wish.  If you have a poem you are carrying around today I’d love it if you would share it with me.

To hell with the Vicodin

cape cod kayak


I start things, I don’t always finish them.  At least in a timely manner.  I have a lot of drafts in my WordPress folder.  The way I work is, I get an idea, usually a sentence or a title, or I look at one of my photos and it spurs something.  But, the two things — a few words and an image — always go together in my mind.  That’s how I roll.  Often I get several sentences down, maybe even a paragraph or two, before I leave it.  That way I have something to pick up on when I come back.

You can imagine my confusion when I opened this draft and found the title with this particular photo and nothing else.  Not one word.  What does Vicodin have to do with a placid scene of two guys fishing from kayaks in a cove on Cape Cod?  What WAS I thinking when I dropped this here?  Anyone?

And before you ask, no I wasn’t on Vicodin when I began the piece.  That was the point of the title.  I do remember that.  Because I had tried to have a prescription for it filled, along with an antibiotic after a grueling oral surgery last October.  And an older woman who reminded me of my high school Math teacher, Mrs. Burns (a woman so terrifying that the French teacher across the hall once put a sign on his door that read:  First Aid for Lethal Burns) looked at my prescriptions and then told me all the reasons why the Vicodin scrip couldn’t be filled.  Something to do with changes in dosage — of the acetaminophen, not even the narcotic part of it — and my oral surgeon should have known that.  No, I couldn’t just have his office call it in because it was a Class 3 drug, I would have to go back to the office, a 70-minute roundtrip drive away, and have the doctor write a new prescription.  And my mouth was swollen and starting to hurt, and I was thinking, to hell with the Vicodin.  Which completely makes sense now that I’ve explained it to you doesn’t it?

Except for the photograph.

Your guess is as good as mine.  I welcome your suggestions.

A Stupid Place

Gram at 70.

Gram at 70.

A Stupid Place

A stupid place to put it,
she says, winding into another rant
about a ceiling fan at the wrong end of the room.
She sits and twists the ring on her finger,
and wonders why she is here.

Because she used to have a house.
Now she has too much furniture,
and a life packed in cardboard boxes,
honey-combed walls wilted by
the heat of how many summers?

Moments flicker and play out
in silent testimony to what came before
this place, this stupid place.
At the window, a curtain lifts like an apparition
in a breeze too flabby to last.

She turns her head and waits for
the next riffle of wind,
for the days that gather and roll
like dust bunnies beneath her bed,
while she sits and twists the ring on her finger

and her mind meanders in a space
too narrow for contentment,
a labyrinth of thoughts
that twists and turns upon itself
crossing the same trail, the same words,

A stupid place to put it, she says.
I don’t know why I’m here.

~~  Mary Pierce, 1995

The woman in the photo is my grandmother, Pearl Crawford Pierce.  She was seventy when the photo was taken, her hair color still hers and not from a box.  She cut her hair herself.  My grandfather had been dead for more than twenty years by then.  In those years, she had learned to drive a car and shop for herself, two things that my grandfather had always done.  She also got a job at the local paper mill, worked for a while, retired, and found a sense of satisfaction selling Avon products because it got her out of her house.  She had style and a snazzy Mustang by then.

A few years after this photo was taken she was mugged on her own front porch.  She stopped selling Avon and was reluctant to go outside.  A couple of years after that, in one of the infrequent times she did leave her house, her car skidded on an icy road and she hit a bank.  The kind you keep your money in.  She broke her jaw and her hip and cracked some ribs.  Eventually, she healed.  Physically.

By the time I wrote the poem, she had given up her house to a daughter and moved to a small one-bedroom apartment in a subsidized development.  Her short-term memory had moved somewhere else.  It clearly was no longer residing with her.  I wrote the poem after a visit.  That year I made many visits, driving from my home in Rhode Island to her stupid place in northern New York with a six-year-old in tow, trying desperately to find a way to keep her in her apartment and out of a nursing home.  Physically, in spite of her run-in with the bank, she was strong and relatively healthy, the one glitch being that she had developed high enough blood pressure to necessitate her taking daily medication.  Which, of course, she could never remember to do.

Twenty years and five months after the photo was taken Gram died in a nursing home after she fell out of bed in the middle of the night.  Had she known what was happening, she would have laughed at what a ridiculous way to go that was.  A few years before that, on one of my visits, she asked me to take her to the area she had been born.  We ended up at the cemetery where her parents and her baby brother, Rosco were all buried.  It was one of those lovely large cemeteries with mature trees and undulating hills, a place with a good view, she said.  We didn’t make it to the Crawford family plot because in our traipsing about, she lost her balance on the spongy ground and rolled down a hill before I could grab her.  When I caught up to her, she was unhurt and doubled over in laughter.  “Well, if I died here, at least I wouldn’t have far to go,” she managed to choke out.  And we both laughed like hell because the whole thing was hilarious, and what else was there to do?  Life is hard.  Sometimes, we end up in a stupid place.

I chart my grandmother’s journey in words and pictures because that is the best way I know to remember who she was.  To me, at any rate.  Others may remember someone else.  Despite the poem, despite the place she ultimately found herself in, it wasn’t the whole story.  I knew her as a woman of passion, of strength and the courage to guide me past a bear.  (Yes, a real bear.  A story for another time.)  But, she was also something more.  Scroll back up to that photo and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s there in her eyes.  Those are the eyes of someone who has always known how to dream.  An asset, because dreams will get you where you need to go.

No matter what place you happen to be.

Unkind Words — a Fable for Fools

The Gossips

“And, though they never stopped trying, the only words they could make always sounded like the rustling of leaves.”



The thing I am about to tell you might have happened once upon a time. It could have been last week.  It makes no difference, the truth is truth no matter when it happens.

In the place where my mother used to live, there were three tongues, each in a different mouth, and of all the tongues that resided in this particular place, these three were the most slithering and maleficent. Not one, but three serpents in the Garden of Eden.

The first tongue belonged to a woman named Helen.  Helen was a person who lived on a high moral ground in a great house she richly deserved.  She lived alone.  Her husband had been a fisherman who fell (some thought dove) from his boat one stormy afternoon and was never seen again.  There were three daughters, but each had left to marry, one after the other and all of them lived very far away.

The second tongue belonged to a woman who never married, never gave birth, never so much as cared for a cat because she simply did not have time.  Her job, she believed, was to mind the lives of others, and she did so with a ferocity few could circumvent.  Her name was Agnes.

The last tongue belonged to a man named Thomas.  He also lived alone, unable ever to settle on a wife.  Though there were many fine women in the area, none had ever quite suited him.  His standards were much too high.  Eventually, no one tried anymore to leap the hurdles he had set.

Communities generally have a way of getting along.  They mind their own business, or they help when they are able.  They offer comfort as needed, a joke, a helping hand, or even silent company when silence is the only thing that will do.  In the place where my mother lived all of these things were true.  It was also true that there was often anger and resentment that when allowed to fester would erupt in a cataclysm of bitter words and flying fists.  Sometimes people broke the law.  When that happened there was a price they would have to pay.

What is the price to pay for unrelenting meanness?

In this case, that price began to be tallied up with a wish made by a child.  A young boy who delivered eggs to the owners of those sharp tongues.  One day, after enduring yet another round of, you clumsy dolt, mind those eggs, and, took you long enough you lazy baboon, and, don’t look at me like that, you rude brat, the boy returned home and wrote: I wish THEY would disappear on a piece of paper. His mother found the paper and asked him what he meant.  When he told her she did not scold him.   Later, she told her husband what the boy had wished.  The next day he told a co-worker about it.  The co-worker nodded.

“Yes,” said the co-worker, a man who lived across the street from Helen and had gone to school with Agnes and Thomas.  “That is a good wish.”

The co-worker told his wife about the boy’s wish.  Three afternoons each week, the man’s wife scrubbed Helen’s kitchen and bathrooms, dusted furniture, and washed windows all while listening to Helen rant.  You can’t clean spit, my kitchen is too filthy to use, and if I didn’t follow you around the house, you’d probably rob me blind.  I only keep you on because that’s the kind of person I am.  Too nice for my own good.

The co-worker’s wife made a wish, too.

When Agnes railed at the woman who cut her hair, I should sue you for incompetence you imbecile, the hairdresser made a wish.

Thomas screamed at a teacher and her fifth-grade class for raking and pulling up weeds in the lot next to his house.  You and your brats are getting dirt in my yard.  I should have you fired, you’re too stupid to be in charge of kids.  Later that day the teacher and her students each went home and made a wish.

For weeks, people wished and wished.  Almost always the same wish.  I wish THEY would disappear.  Except for one.  Feeling ashamed of making such a dire wish and being caught out, the little boy who delivered eggs had amended his wish.  I wish THEY couldn’t speak he wrote instead.  He kept wishing it every day.

Somewhere all those wishes were being tallied.  And when there were at last enough of them, something happened.

One morning the sun rose high in the sky over the river that ran through that place.  People went about their business not noticing at first, how much lighter the air felt, how warm and inviting the sun was.  People smiled and said hello to one another and it wasn’t until a few hours later that they realized the lightness came from the fact that no one had heard the three awful tongues.  The bravest in the place went to check.  First to Helen’s house.  Then to Agnes’s.  Finally Thomas’s.  No one was there.  In fact, it looked as though no one had lived for a very long time at any of those three homes.

But, where three people had vanished from their homes, it also happened that at a lonely spot along the river there suddenly appeared three magnificent trees in a cluster, heads bowed, whispering together as if trying to make sense of how they came to be there.

Let this be fair warning to you:  Do not use words to inflict pain.  There is no reward waiting — in this world or others — for sharp tongues and wicked minds.

This is not a lesson easily learned.

On the other hand, those trees will be lovely for a long time to come.  The town set out picnic tables by the river so that people may sit and watch the water and time drift leisurely past. And where the only sound they hear (besides their own voices) comes from the gentle rustle of leaves above them.


The End

n.b. The photo is a picture of the trees along the St. Lawerence River in Akwesasne where my mother lives.  This is the view from her window.  I’ve had this photo and the idea that these trees were gossiping mulling around in my brain for awhile.  A long time ago my mother told me a story from when she was a little girl living at Akwesasne, about an old woman who was thought to be able to transmute herself at will into a pig.  That’s where the idea of transmutation came from.  And these days there seem to be so many people speaking such unkind words, I thought a cautionary tale was in order.



I love the word, ephemeral.  It’s a wisp of a word that flies out of my mouth on fairy wings and disappears the moment it is said.  I love the fleetingness of it, the here-one-moment-gone-the-next thrill of saying it aloud.

That I was able to capture this sunset was also a thrill.  I hadn’t planned on it.  My husband and I were simply driving to meet some friends, and there it was, the trees along the way stretching their arms up in halleluja, singing the sun’s praises.  Will you look at that, they seemed to say.  Isn’t it glorious?  It was, indeed.  Seconds after I got this shot, the gold blister of sun was replaced by a thin stitch of orange along the horizon line.  The yellow glow was gone.

And so were we.

Inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge which can be found here.

All the words that fit

WP 15 table 2

The two women on the left thought a small retreat for writers of Kid Lit would be a good idea. Laurie Smith Murphy in the foreground, and just behind her, Linda Crotta Brennan. We owe them BIG TIME for their genius.

You see those people talking?  The woman laughing?  The lamp-lit snow in the window behind her?  Dim light and intimacy in a rustic setting; words shared in the middle of nowhere.  This was opening night at the SCBWI Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat last weekend, and I was there.

I have been lucky enough to have attended this event for thirteen years, the last four of which I had a hand in running with the amazing Lynda Mullaly Hunt.  Five years ago I wrote here about the anticipation I felt beforehand. This year was even more special.  It was both the 20th Anniversary of the retreat, and my last as acting Co-Director. There were more attendees than ever before, more mentors (three editors: Sylvie Frank, Kendra Levin, and Mallory Kass; three agents: John Cusick, Erin Murphy, Ammi-Joan Paquette), more words.  More fun.

I wish though, I would have taken more photos.  Talked to more people than I did.  I wish it would not have gone by in such a blur — good things always happen that way. And, yet, when words abound and fill the space you occupy, when ideas flit like birds, some will linger long enough to feel true.

These were some of the words that spoke the loudest truth for me:

  • I will wear a vest (more likely a sweater) of invisibility when I leave my room momentarily so that my husband knows not to talk to me.  I’m not actually in the kitchen pouring tea or water in my cup, I’m still at my desk. I’m still writing.  He will know that my head is filled with all the words that fit.  It cannot handle more at that time.
  • I will call my inner critic Velveeta.  Because how can you listen to, or believe in a critic with a cheesy name like that?
  • Without motivation, there is no story.
  • Writing is good for the soul.

To that last I would add that writing retreats in general are also good for the soul. It takes me days to process what I learned, which in turn improves my writing.  And it gladdens my heart to think of the kind and lovely people I have newly met and added to the list of names that I call friend.

It’s such a corny thing to say (Oh, shut up Velveeta I’m going to say it anyway), but I have drunk from the well of inspiration, and it was good.

It will sustain me for a while.

WP 15 Table 2

At this table more smiles and conversation. In the center, directly in front of the window, is my partner-in-crime, Lynda. She is the Energizer Bunny of organizing magic.







Little Shiny Things

Glass sea creatures by Leopold & Rudolph Blaschka.

Glass sea creatures by Leopold & Rudolph Blaschka.

Birthdays, for me, are notable for nothing so much as a reminder of how quickly time passes.  And when I start thinking about that, I start thinking the Why are we hereWhat’s the meaning of life? kind of questions that have no definitive answers, and then my head starts to hurt.  I’ve felt this way since I was a kid.  At least there were gifts, then, and a cake to distract me.

I’m not that crazy about cake anymore, and there is nothing I really need, so on my birthday in those first few moments of waking, I generally feel a pang, a longing for something I can’t quite put my finger on. Perhaps if I had not been born in the dead of winter?  Maybe the longing is simply for sun.

Sunday, the 25th, was my birthday.  This year there happened to be sun.  As well as son of the other kind, and a plan.

And there were Facebook friends to keep me buoyed.

The first Happy Birthday popped up the evening before.  I was surprised. When I checked, it was a Facebook friend from Athens, Greece.  It made me smile and think about this woman who lived so far away, and where, for her, it was officially my birthday.  A few more birthday greetings followed shortly after that.  One was from a woman I adore, who is usually up rather late at night, and who was glad not to miss leaving her good wishes.  I went to bed thinking about that woman — a dear friend of my husband’s late grandmother (another woman I adored).  She’s also known me since I was a little girl.  She gets special props for that.

In the morning over coffee, I checked Facebook again.  There were more birthday wishes. More of me thinking fondly on each person who posted. More smiling going on, inside and out.

The plan for the day was a trip to Boston.  Drive up, pick up the Boy, and drive to the Museum of Science to spend the afternoon.  On the way, I kept checking to see how many more people had wished me a happy birthday.  The number kept growing.  I kept announcing the number to my husband as he drove.

We whiled away a lovely afternoon at the museum.  Later in the day, as I stood scanning the central room in search of Husband and Boy, I thought about all the people there — young and old, grandparents, parents, children, all of them exploring, touching, laughing.  So alive.  As opposed to the army of scientists and mathematicians whose ideas informed the basics of so many of the exhibits.

There is nothing like wandering around a museum to bring home the point of time passing by.

Still, throughout the day–a peek here, a glance there–at the increasing number of people who took a second to say Hey you, Happy Birthday kept me from wading too deeply into the murky musings of mortality.  People were waving and smiling at me from all over the world.

What a strange and wondrous world we live in.

There’s a lot to be said about the pros and cons of social media.  It’s the scourge of our society, a time suck, a spy.  It’s blessing, it’s a curse.

What I will say is this.  I read every single birthday greeting I received.  Time (the greedy bugger) did not allow for me to reply to every one, or even very many, but I liked each one which, for me, at least, serves the purpose of acknowledgment.

I can tell you that with every smile and wave you sent, I pictured each and every one of you.  How I know you, or how long.  Some of you I grew up with, went to school with, worked with, acted with, wrote with, played games with.  Some of you I’ve never met face-to-face. All of you have made me laugh.

I thought about where you are, or what you like, what music you listen to, or what you like to eat.  The words you hate, the games you enjoy.  Some little shiny thing about you that I can hold to the light, that makes you, you, makes you memorable to me so that when you wish me well, I know exactly who to picture.

I know exactly who to thank.