Writing Any Way

I long to hold a pencil. Writing any way I can is my great compromise. I read that Grandma Moses painted with her left hand when arthritis made it difficult for her to paint with her right. I’m writing with my damn thumbs right now.

There’s something romantic and sensuous about the act. Graphite pianissimo. Exploring the texture of notebook paper, a journal, or the back of an envelope. Return to sender.

I’m stuffing the envelope which is this notes app on my phone. My thumbs glide and autosuggestion assists and even gets it right. Sometimes.

Thistle and pepper spray.
Love you too baby sting.
In case you want to guess, I won’t be able to make the writer’s meeting.

I made and drank grapefruitcello.


I am so annoyed that I can’t figure out how to format poems. Or much of anything else for that matter. Maybe it’s because I cut and paste? I’m talking about amateur in the best sense of the word: to love something. If I’m going to stagger along on my own there’s going to be a lot of swearing, fair warning.

To love a thing
is not enough.
Understand it.

This is what I gave:
Solo piece.
Ensemble music.
Something fun,
maybe improvising or composing,
if the student seemed inclined.

I think I love it.
A poem.
Something fun.

I don’t understand.
It’s not quite the same.
I’m a flounder.

I figured something out.
And I didn’t swear.

Mr. Prufrock’s Decision

Audacious cretaceous crabs crawled along the beach.

I longed to ride.

I must apologize.

I got confused.

I could never sit astride

a dinosaur

or a tiny mammal

                                                though my hands can sometimes

scuttle sideways with the crabs.

I’ll scrawl

an ornate bridle

and a willing silver steed.

I’ll call him Mr. Prufrock.

            This bit confuses me.

                                                            A grasp and a gallop, 

a barnacle and a pinch.

I am reminded that

tomorrow will be barnacled and repurposed.

Let’s leave it there

beached like an ancient edit

forever pummeled by sand and wave.

My dear Mr. Prufrock, though hooved, you write with the audacity of a sea horse.

Our Breath is the Wind of Dreams

Dreams by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Covered with snow.

To Breathe a Dream by Linda Doughty

Handwritten and taped to my desk and on a scrap of paper, Langston Hughes’s “Dreams” reminded me to hold fast. My title was Technical Services Assistant and I worked in the back of the Chatham College Library, processing and cataloging books and other library materials. I would earn $10,050 a year, with scant benefits. The wonders of OCLC*, countless other acronyms, F-keys, and WordStar, mail sorting, the bureaucratic snarl of invoice processing, and budget review suffused my days. During breaks, I found thin books to stow in the middle drawer of my desk. Assigning fund lines for payments glazed my eyes and there were days when I couldn’t take one more call from a vendor. My peripheral vision was good and I was adept at pushing the drawer back in with my belly. I read “The Old Man and the Sea” this way.

The job demoralized me. Holding fast to my dream of becoming a professional flute player, I’d recently completed my Master’s degree in Flute Performance at Carnegie Mellon University. I had the diploma; what I didn’t have was money or confidence. While studying for the degree, a conducting student had attached himself to me. It took years to shake him loose. He implored, “You need to put your life on hold.” Support his career, or else. I made excuses for him as I held tight to a misguided dream. Surely he could understand my desire for a more egalitarian relationship. We would overcome obstacles together. Love would provide clarity in due course, of this I was confident.

It seemed like a good idea. The University of Arizona had both a doctoral conducting program and a library school. Tucson thrived as an arts community. We would have more opportunities in a smaller, western city than in old-monied Pittsburgh. He applied and was accepted into their conducting program. I applied and was accepted as a doctoral student in flute performance. We would both be graduate teaching assistants. This was my dream. He asked me, “When are you ever going to start acting right?”

I dreamed a successful orchestral career . I burned through a couple of marriages then dreamed a better partnership. I dreamed a son, I dreamed a family, I dreamed a life with pets. I dreamed horses back into my life.

I dreamed of retirement. I dreamed of quiet, of still, of peace, of cloud shows and butterflies. Covid-19 opened that space. I grasped the doorknob. Then I stepped through the doorway with gratitude and horror.

I’ve burned. I’ve smoldered. I’ve erupted. Not proud of that last bit.

Dreams don’t die. Dreams drift like clouds. Breath has a warmth to melt the snow. Brokenness heals and healing breaks us open. Our breath is the wind of dreams.

“I think,” Tehanu said in her soft, strange voice, “that when I die, I can breathe back the breath that made me live. I can give back to the world all that I didn’t do. All that I might have been and couldn’t be. All the choices I didn’t make. All the things I lost and spent and wasted. I can give them back to the world. To the lives that haven’t been lived yet. That will be my gift back to the world that gave me the life I did live, the love I loved, the breath I breathed.”

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Other Wind


Cowboy Church

My left knee bounced up and down. Toes on the ground and heel jiggling. Was the movement becoming automatic and beyond my control? The Sunday school lesson at my grandmother’s Methodist church bored me. The teacher proclaimed, “Animals do not go to heaven.”  She said something to me. I noticed but didn’t hear. My parents showed up after the service and the teacher pulled them aside. I wasn’t out of earshot. I kept my indignation to myself.

We drove a few times a year to visit my grandmother. She ushered my family into her small, two-bedroom apartment through the back door. Her housedress was light green with a busy floral pattern. She bent toward me, preceded by a smoky aroma of Emeraude and Newports. “Give me a kiss!” she implored while shoving her cheek into my face. I held my breath and marveled at the softness of her skin under its fine veil of powder. She promised a surprise for me. “You girls sit here at the table while I talk to your mom and dad. I’ve put out a couple of carrots for you and here are the swords.” She carried a plastic container from the windowsill and placed it on the Formica table. “See how many you can get in there!” I hoped that this wasn’t my surprise.

It was kind of fun to pierce the carrots with colorful cocktail swords. My sister and I kept it up for a few minutes, then ran out of swords. We scooted off our chairs, bouncing into the living room. “Linda Sue, will you promise to put flowers on my grave?” My blood ran cold. I imagined myself in a frilly pastel dress, ankle socks, and church gloves. I carried a bouquet of white flowers. Shadows flitted over the casket, there to bid my grandma farewell. I couldn’t think of anything more frightening. I was eight years old and unfamiliar with the tradition of placing flowers on graves. My great grandfather’s funeral the previous year was open casket, but no one made me do anything. Seeing him dead was much less frightening than imagining Grandmother dead.

I blushed and fell silent. My mother admonished me with a raised eyebrow and a hiss. I pointed at my sister, “Yes. Will she have to do it, too?” There was some muttering about the baby sister and how she was too young. I resigned myself to the responsibility. I’d be old enough then to not be afraid. My grandmother smiled and asked me if I was ready for my surprise. I nodded my head and hoped I wouldn’t have to do anything else on her grave. “Tomorrow morning we are going to get up early and go to the Cowboy Church at the drive-in movie theater. You’ll like that, won’t you? The cowboys will be riding horses and you can put the offering in the hat when they come around.” I heard the word “horses.”

The raspy voice of Cowboy God did not impress me any more than the Sunday school teacher’s admonitions had. Granted, words had to battle to emerge from the drive-in theater speaker like truths from a casket. The speaker clung to the rolled-down window of Grandma’s new Chevy Nova. When the horses came around I strained to see. The haunches of the yellow horse paused by the driver’s window. Dad placed the offering in the hat because I couldn’t reach it from the backseat. The inverted Stetson obscured my view of the faces of both horse and rider.

“Oh, that was special!” I thought Grandma’s exclamation was unwarranted. “We’re going to go to Furr’s now.” Furr’s was a buffet-style restaurant. I was a picky eater. There was a lot to choose from, but not much choice. In a whisper, I asked Mom if Furr’s was a restaurant for old people.

Mother helped my sister and me through the buffet line. When we got to the end, the checkout lady said, “That little girl’s eyes are bigger than her stomach.” I looked at the sad green beans on my tray. Mother replied, “It’s okay, she can eat what she wants.” My little sister’s tray was laden with fried chicken and desserts, like a barnyard church potluck. I realized the lady wasn’t talking about me. I watched the red Jell-O on my tray quiver. I wondered if it had taken on a life of its own.


When you first step out into the desert heat from an air-conditioned and overly cooled room, the heat envelopes you like a warm welcome. It feels good, like a dry sauna, soothing your aches, convincing you that maybe it’s not so bad. Then 30 seconds pass and you scurry back indoors, that is if you have half the sense you might have been born with instinctually reverting to the basics of self-preservation. Longing for the warmth can lead us astray, especially those of us unaccustomed to an environment waiting to pounce, poke, stick, bite or desiccate you at every turn.  With surprisingly little effort you learn that the Sonoran Desert is also waiting to once again feed you, protect you, shelter you and even provide you with plentiful water, but you have to make the effort to listen.


My husband and I had traveled to Singapore, Australia, and New Zealand in 2013 a few months before I began horseback riding again. Between jet lag, my short legs and a ridiculous need to prove that I could keep up with my long-legged husband, I went sprawling while stepping onto a ferry boat from Devonport to Auckland, badly spraining my ankle. The boat was crowded with afternoon commuters. Someone quickly helped me back up to my feet and someone else magically produced an ice pack. After we returned home I limped around for months, but I thought I was mostly healed by the time I started riding. I attributed the stabbing pain in my groin and tailbone to my recent fall and the fact that I hadn’t ridden horses regularly for over 30 years. Eventually, the pain lessened as I continued riding, but driving became more and more painful. I bought donut pillows to sit on. I swallowed ibuprofen, wondering whether I’d ever be able to take an overseas flight again because the pain was so debilitating.

I rode many miles of trails, traversing the desert on wonderful horses. The daily pain lessened but returned to wake me at night. Visits to my chiropractor and massage therapist brought fleeting relief, which turned out to be short-lived when I promptly injured my lower back during a yoga class in which the instructor tried to guide my body into a position it didn’t agree with. No pain, no gain, right?

I stopped riding when my mare died and my gelding was retired in 2021. I no longer wake up with pain in my back and hips. Or in my shoulders or hands.

Covid-19 caused many performing arts organizations around the country to cancel their seasons. As a professional orchestra musician, the pandemic effectively put an end to my career as a flutist, which turned out to be a blessing of sorts. Tendinitis had become an ongoing issue. By the time I retired, I could not come close to making a fist with my right hand. I can now. I still have to be careful with my hands, but so far, I can type.


Southern Arizona is hot again, searing Tucson in triple-digit heat. Every time I step outside, the desert lures me with promises of a warm embrace that can turn painful memories into dust faster than you can recount them. I long for the saddle and my chair in the orchestra. Sometimes I drift into self-pity: Woe is me! I’ve given up everything I love most! Then I remember how I used to feel and I am happy to be rid of the constant pain. I rest on this comfortable moment, listening.


By the way
strides fall in threes
marking their way,
four hooves

leave the way;
I recall hoofbeats.

I can hear: words prance

on heat spirals,
circling upwards. I hesitate to

say it. Each movement
begins anew and repeats
an earworm: horses

sing the chorus. Memory
a strangling anchor
I grasp: static
white noise, spilling over
the basin’s edge – urgency
swells, moves ribs
heels and hooves
tucks tail
Don’t force. The deafness is sounding.
What is sung: we are cruel
to be kind – we are wasted
on the horses, lost
in their thrall
sweaty backs melt into blue jeans
melded, unfixed wildness
up and through, both
unfound and flowing momentum
hearing the sound
ears forward
cupping the wind,
time and bodies are broken together
my kindness carries no song.