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November 30, 2023 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic, Writing tagged as , , ,

Leaves, leaves, and more leaves—the fall chore overwhelmed Kelsie each year, ever since she’d lost Tanner. It wasn’t the yardwork that ate at her, but more the season, the slide from a glorious summer into an end-of-growing-things autumn, followed closely by the chill of winter, when everything was either dead or in a deep sleep. That inevitability reminded her she’d been powerless to stop Tanner’s death—once the cancer was diagnosed, he’d had exactly three months left, those three months falling during a turbulent autumn.

Her friends worried for her. “Five years out, you should be bouncing back,” they said. “He would want you to live your life, not stay buried in grief.”

But they didn’t know—hadn’t known—her brother. After their father, and then their mother had died, Tanner had been her lifeline. For that bittersweet decade after their deaths, he had served as her confidant when her personal relationships soured. He’d always, always led her toward the positive, even after he got sick.

“You’re a tough woman,” he’d said when she expressed doubt that she could carry on without him. “You’ll survive. That’s what we do. All of this loss makes you strong.”

But she knew different. Loss left holes. Large ones that couldn’t be filled, no matter how many days, weeks, or years passed. Couldn’t be filled, no matter how many dead leaves you stuffed into them.

And so Kelsie raked. The piles grew, and she allowed the ache in her arms and shoulders and back to counter the pain in her soul. Her thoughts butted up against the endless question: Why had she been spared? Tanner should have lived, not her; even after all this time, she was still not up to the task of facing her life alone.

When the sun sank below the trees, she put up the rake and went indoors for a hot mug of hard cider and a hearth fire. She dozed in her chair, hearing over the crackle of the flames the wind gusting. I should have moved the leaf piles into the woods. Now they’ll be scattered.

The following morning, Kelsie pulled on her jeans, boots, and sweater to tackle another round of yard work. Glancing out the bedroom window, she stepped closer to the glass, to better see.

The wind—or something—had indeed moved the leaves, but instead of scattering them, they were arranged on the grass in a pattern, one that spelled a name: hers.

“Tanner,” she whispered, feeling suddenly lighter. The darkness within her retreated with the day’s full sunlight. “Thank you.”

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Striking Distance

July 30, 2022 by in category Quill and Moss by Dianna Sinovic tagged as , ,
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Photo by Sagar Kulkarni on Unsplash

It’s about noon, my eleventh day on the trail. My feet hurt, and the blisters have begot more blisters. So much for the overpriced, cushioned socks I thought I had to have. I’m tempted to walk barefoot, but that would last maybe a quarter mile and then I’d have to put these blasted boots on again. 

I’m tired of the crowds. I stopped counting this morning after logging twenty other hikers. The one person I wish was here can’t be—ever again. Josh would have found a way to love this. Yet his absence is the reason I’m hiking, to prove that I can make it solo from here on out.

Actually, I’m not positive it’s noon. I’m not wearing a watch and my phone is turned off—I’m doing the back-to-nature thing. But it’s July, and the sun is overhead. And I’m hungry—although I seem to be perpetually hungry on this trek. It’s an emptiness I just can’t fill.

Ahead lies a boulder field. Whoever said the AT was a walk in the woods was lying. At least in Pennsylvania, it’s loaded with rocks. Behind me, before me, I’m alone with the boulders, not a soul around for once, and I see a snake. Timber rattler; I’ve done my research. It’s coiled in a pocket of rock. I look at it, and it looks at me. I am about 1,500 feet up the mountain—glorious view if I wasn’t so frozen with fear. 

Don’t look down, the snake says. 

I’m not imagining this, as ridiculous as it seems. The snake spoke to me. Not out loud; in my head. And sarcastically.

“I’m not afraid of heights,” I shoot back. “But I am terrified of you.”

Its unblinking eyes hold me. Don’t rattle me, and I’ll leave you alone.

Who knew snakes were comedians? But, I think, you don’t know why I’m panicked. 

When I was growing up, a boy named Robert lived next door. One day, with a crazy giggle, he threw a milk snake around my neck. I was nine, and he was the bully of the block. That innocent, orange-and-white snake gave me nightmares for months afterward. 

And each old Western I watched where a character dies from snakebite increased my ophidiophobia. I am deathly afraid of any snake. And this one is a pit viper.

If I could persuade my feet to move, I would backpedal my way back down the mountain. But minutes tick past. Sweat dampens my shirt and drips from my forehead. 

If only I were Harry Potter, I think. He was most unafraid of snakes, even giant basilisks. 

What would Josh do? The snake’s tongue flickers.

“Leave Josh out of this,” I shout. My eyes smart, but I will not cry in front of a smart-ass snake. 

Still, part of me calls out to my partner. His ashes are scattered to the winds, but I want desperately to believe that I still have his ear—wherever cosmically it now is. So, I think, what would Josh have counseled?

Wait out the snake. The answer seems to rise on the breeze. He’s right: I’m not in any hurry, no deadline to meet, and the valley below is breathtaking. 

And so I sit on a chunk of granite overlooking a leafy wilderness in the Poconos. I focus on the scent of pine and the kettle of vultures spiraling in an afternoon thermal, and I feel myself relax. 

It may be five minutes or fifteen when I glance back to the rattler.

You’re tougher than you look. The snake uncoils and slips out of its rocky hollow. The trail’s all yours. It vanishes into another crevice.

Hoisting my pack, I set off once again over the rocks. But my feet hurt a bit less and there is a spring in my step.

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War by Neetu

April 26, 2022 by in category Poet's Day by Neetu Malik tagged as , ,


I try 
to find words for war

how it wrecks, how it feels
there is no language I find
to reach

that space inside me
to define the terror
give utterance 
to grief

why war when
there is no winning

when there is only loss
and losing

no matter which side
you're on

© Neetu Malik

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