Short Nonfiction

Ninth Letter, fall/winter 2018-19


“In 1993, intrigued by the cover, I picked up a copy of Ernesto “Che” Guevara’s The Motorcycle Diaries. The book cover portrays the young rebel Che stretched out in a prison cell, surrounded by bars. But, I learned many years later, in reality it’s a cropped photo of the clean-cut medical student Ernesto lounging contemplatively on his well-to-do family’s wrought-iron balcony in Buenos Aires.

“In 1993 I turned 29. In 1952, 29-year-old Alberto Granado invited his younger pal Ernesto on a transcontinental motorcycle trip.”

Mothers Always Write, 2018

Unconditional Love, Elucidated

“Food, water, shelter, and unconditional love. Those are the four basic requirements of children,” pronounced the cheerful Attending Psychologist at the Center for Foster Care Health. Though tall, Mike looked too young to be an authority on much beyond dorm life, much less to be guiding makeshift families in crisis. “That’s it,” he finished, as if he’d imparted a simple pancake recipe.

“I’m sorry, but I need a definition of “unconditional love!” I yelled over the helicopter touching down outside our window on the landing pad of the hospital where the Pediatric Trauma Center was located. “I hear that term a lot, but what does it mean? Exactly. I have no idea, anymore.”

Nature’s Healing Spirit: Real Life Stories to Nurture the Soul, 2018

Come On, Mom

“I heard there’s a Great Egret down at the harbor!” I told my thirteen-year-old. Finally, a bird so distinctive I stood a chance of not only seeing but identifying it. Hard to miss an albino duck the size of a barstool.
“You’ve seen one before.” Ben glanced up from his birding field guide. Friendless, he memorizes them like I’d scrutinized Tiger Beat at his age.

Alaska Airlines Magazine, January 2018

Here and Now Seattle: Vibrant Ballard (pages 130-133)

“When my husband isn’t playing one of his many banjos, we can enjoy Americana music at the energetic Tractor Tavern or listen to jazz at the more laid-back Egan’s Ballard Jam House…. We also like to check the concert calendar for the Ballard Homestead, originally a 1923 church “Mission Hall.” My son’s concert there with the Ballard Fiddlers is my favorite to date, but I might not be objective.”

Manifest Station, 2017

“I pulled up short at several groupings of mannequins in the very back corner. They had a startled look about them, like flustered, half-clothed beauty contestants when the pageant’s owner crashes the dressing room. They were packed tightly together, detained in their cordoned-off boxcar stalls, unlike the generously spread-out mannequins in the rest of the exhibit. They clustered together in a state of dishabille, as if they’d been commanded to leave before they had a full chance to dress or pack.”

Just a Little More Time: 56 Authors on Love and Loss, 2017

Tarnished: True Tales of Innocence Lost, 2011

jalmt-coverBreaking My Silence (Among Other Things)
“I wanted to hop in the sack, but I got the sack, instead. Dark and lusty romance novel heroes go to great lengths to corrupt innocent heroines, but my boyfriends all split as soon as they heard that they would be my ‘first.’ I had passed the legal age limit for drinking and voting, so my dates didn’t think they had an intact hymen to contend with. I think my potty mouth fooled them; how could a girl who talked a foul blue streak not have rolled in the gutter?”

Ghosts of Seattle Past, Washington State Book Award Finalist, 2017

harveys sign movingPizza Not to Swear By: Harvey’s Tavern
“I got up and closed the new beveled glass door, its beauty out of place here, like a tiara on a rhino—the 2001 earthquake had damaged the original door. An askew Mount Rainier painting bore the tavern’s only other earthquake reminder: a bullet hole from a hysterical patron’s gun going off during the 1945 quake. Returning to my wobbly stool, I placed my usual order: ‘A small Double O for me and a small Special for Richard.’ The pizza would be ready when my husband’s band took a break.” Read more about this forthcoming anthology in The Stranger’s 3/2/16 article.

50 Over 50: Celebrating Experienced and Emerging Women Writers , 2016

Gulf Coast, 25:2, summer/fall 2013

Gulf Coast50 over 50Life Cycles
“1969 Honda CL 125 Scrambler, maroon and chrome, an on-off road bike with a high exhaust and skid plates: my dad’s last motorcycle and my earliest memory. He took the helmetless kids on the block for rides one day. We lined up for our turn, like for a carnival ride, and we each got one lap around the long, steep block. Although I waited with impatience for my turn, I wanted the ride to end as soon as it started.”

Full Grown People, 2015

Grandma, Peter, and Lady Lou

“‘Let me put my wife on the line,’ my husband said into the receiver. Richard handed me the phone as if it were a loaded doggie-doo bag. ‘It’s the Greyhound Lady.’ Richard was usually the talker on our family team, but he’d made it clear with a palms-out gesture at my replacement-pet search that, ‘The greyhound is your deal.’”


Raven Chronicles Humor Issue, fall 2015

raven chroniclesRider, Writer
“On the second day of our cross-country motorcycle trip, a stranger at a Washington state gas station said to my husband, ‘That bike is way too small for a trip like that.’ The man eyed the sagging saddlebags on the 750cc Yamaha and on my thighs. ‘With her helmet-n-boots-n-jacket-n-all, The Wife alone probably comes in at about a hunnerd-n-fifty. Figure in another fifty for the rest of the gear.’”


Full Grown People, 2015


Croc Walks Into a Bar
“The crocodile slipped out of the underbrush that strangled the opposite shore and eased into the water. He shoved off with webbed paws incongruously small for steering a barge loaded with muscle and teeth, like tricycle tires on a hearse. He moved slowly, as if he had all the time in the world to wreak havoc upon humanity. No hurry, must scrutinize the menu before making his selection.”

Listen to Your Mother, 2015

LTYM“Although Ben is my first and only child, I am his twelfth mother. By the time Ben became my son at age six, I’d missed out on so much: Ben’s first breath; first word (which might have been ‘ma’); first step; first day of kindergarten; not-so-endearing, his first cuss word of many; not being able to name my own child; and that I would never be called Mom.” (An abbreviated new version of my Pushcart Prize-nominated Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers essay, edited by Jennifer Niesslein and Stephanie Wilkinson.)

WordsWest Video Anthology, fall 2015

wordswestAphrodisiac, Ipecac
“The Man I Married and I hooked up when the Berlin Wall was still standing. To celebrate our quarter-century millstone, I mean milestone, of putting up with each other, we foisted our son, the Little Monster, off for a night onto my brother. MIM and I hadn’t had a night alone together in almost three years, so we pulled out all the stops and were off to Snohomish, not far from where we lived and just a few miles from my brother’s house…. The close proximity meant we would be nearby should an emergency arise with LM, but the truth is that there would be only six minutes between drop-off and our motel room.” (Abbreviated from Airing Out a Quarter-Century Marriage.)

Defenestration: A Literary Magazine Dedicated to Humor, 2014

DrifterHow to Wash a Motorcycle: A Husband’s Guide
“Wait for the one sunny day per year in Seattle. The lawn also needs mowing, but the bike is more time-sensitive, because you must dry it thoroughly before it gets wet again.

“Park the bike behind your wife’s car, preventing her from exiting the driveway. It’s not like she’s going to give birth or another pressing matter that requires a swift exit. She can admire you and your bike while she waits around to go nowhere special at no particular time, which you are sure is how her life works.”

Signs of Life, 2013

Signs of Life 2013_CoverBrush
“The pilots divebombed and strafed the ground with bullets. Dropped cannons and torpedoes and armor-piercing bombs on ships. Slammed themselves into targets. American anti-aircraft fire fell on civilian streets in downtown Honolulu, where my grandfather slept at the YMCA. Sirens blared. Shouts punched through blasts of fire. The lava-rock ground quaked. Through the explosions, louder than the volcanic eruptions that formed the island, Lester Howard snoozed on. Aware of nothing, as if the airplane propellers were made of feathers; the bombs, raindrops; the sirens, birdsongs.”

Salon, Real Families, July 2012

His Adoption Secret
“After Christmas dinner the next day at a friend’s house, the topic of ambergris as a stabilizer in perfume came up. Our host’s boyfriend described ambergris—solidified whale vomit—as smelling similar to gunk flossed from between neglected teeth. Just as he said this, Ben took off his shoes, and it was as if he’d conjured the funk of a decomposing whale.”

Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, spring 2012

On a First Name Basis with my First Grader (Pushcart nominated)
“Although Ben is my first and only child, I am his twelfth mother. By the time Ben became my son, I’d missed out on so much already: not only the maternal bonding provided by pregnancy, childbirth, and breast feeding, but Ben’s first breath, first word, first step, first day of kindergarten, and, not-so-endearing, his first cuss. But not being able to name my own child turned out to be the most surprising deprivation, a profound loss that I hadn’t fully considered.”

Talking River, #27-28, spring 2010

Incorrigible Dirigible
“Stoned on our anniversary—a new tradition, sort of. We tried it two years ago on our sixteenth, with marginal success. I went straight from charring my virgin lungs to my first paranoid meltdown in one coughed-out toke. I wound up in the fetal instead of the missionary position, a far cry from my husband’s visions of ganja kama sutra.”

Harpur Palate V9.2, winter 2010

Off the Road
“I spent many childhood weekends crammed into a midget-sized coffin with a peek-a-boo dome. No starched Snow White stretched on her roomy bower dreaming of a hero’s minty kiss, but a soggy toddler stuffed into the luggage compartment of a subcompact 1967 Volkswagen Bug, wishing for a new family. My parents stowed me, their youngest child, in the cubbyhole as we bounced and jolted along unpaved roads in Hawaii. First one in, last one out, I baked in my airless pocket. The dimpled white vinyl stuck to my bare, sunburned skin, and the pockmarks left me looking like I suffered from a skin disease.”

South Loop Review: Creative Nonfiction + Art V11, fall 2009

“When I returned home, our house was gone, reduced to an insignificant trash pile under the tiara of the toilet, tilting like a tipsy newlywed figurine atop a crushed wedding cake. I wished I’d manned the bulldozer myself, smashing the walls into kindling that I would then ignite. I lost seven babies sitting on that very throne that punctuated the wreckage. Like a dud sparkler, the house collapsed with a sputter and whimper, not the bang that I envisioned. Rather like my fizzled out pregnancies.”

Truth About the Fact: International Journal of Literary Nonfiction V4:1, spring 2009

“So after my sixth miscarriage, my husband said, “I’ll take over from here.” Fair enough. Through biological necessity, I had captained our effort to go forth and multiply. Just as I had once navigated birth control before we were ready for kids, I subsequently piloted our birth attempts when we steered towards parenthood. While I engaged in cheery pursuits like cervical mucus monitoring, Richard’s penis relegated him to the simple and pleasurable act of donating sperm whenever my command center of fertility indicators ordered his long-tailed sailors to shimmy up my oviduct. Now it was his turn to take the helm.”

Compass Rose V9, spring 2009

Ruptured Drawers
“The conveyor belt chugged to life at Tokyo Airport’s baggage claim. A lone pair of ladies’ panties, beige, XL, cruised down the slide. A bra skidded behind it. D-cup, padded, spent-looking, as if exhausted from carrying its normal load. Slips, stockings, and more stretched brassieres bared themselves between the lumbering bags. Well-used delicates batted their lacy eyelashes amidst the grimly marching luggage. Libby’s renegade underwear, set loose like a social disease on the planet’s most polite culture. Loud and lewd Libby often commanded embarrassing attention in public, but her knickers had never put on a show without her.”

North American Review V292:6, 2008

Kill Haole Day
“Violent racial tension simmered in my school throughout the year, but one particular day was set aside every spring as open season on white kids: Kill Haole Day. Like the annual reunions of my adulthood, the last day of school was an occasion that I missed every year of my childhood, because it was likely that if I attended, I would spend my summer in a full body cast.”

Boulevard, spring 2008

Suffer the Women: Personal Stories of Courage, 2008

“Juggling, however, serves only to remind me that most adults are too busy schlepping their kids to soccer practice to spend hours on end hitting themselves on the head with wildly tossed balls. After weeks of practice, I look more like an epileptic chasing slippery hailstones than a coordinated entertainer. Slick performers make it look easy—like all those moms who burp out babies on cue. But the knack for levitating beanbags, and childbearing, eludes me.”

Bylines Writer’s Desk Calendar, 2008

“Grandpa slept through the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The sewing machine salesman snored while ships and planes exploded mere miles from his open window. His dreams continued while American friendly fire, aiming for enemy aircraft, rained down on his neighborhood. Only the frantic and persistent knocking of his friend Yoshi, seeking asylum from anti-Japanese hysteria, awoke Grandpa hours later. I didn’t inherit Grandpa’s legendary ability for deep slumber.”

The Bigger, the Better, the Tighter the Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image, and Other Hazards of Being Female, 2007

Calyx Journal of Art and Literature by Women V20:3, summer 2002

Navel Attire
“Next thing I know I’m in a back room with my Laura Ashley dress hiked up, and a woman with white plastic bows clipping back her short blue hair is forking a hollow needle through my abdomen. I expect it to hurt, and it does. Christina steps back and looks meditative as copious blood pools in my belly button. ‘Very few people bleed like this,’ she tells me. ‘I think it’s because you’re a Meteor Person.’ A Meteor Person? ‘No,’ she says, ‘a m-e-a-t-i-e-r person.’ She spells it out like a compliment.”

Massachusetts Review V48:3, fall 2007

On Being Asked If I’m Related to Alice Munro
“Will an ancestral link with that eminent author from north of the border improve my chances for publication? If so, then, yes, we’re related. Distantly. I mean, I feel Canadian. I’m polite. I don’t own a gun. I have a thing for hockey players. Doesn’t that count for something? Shouldn’t a lifetime of salespeople and registrars sticking an ‘e’ on the end of my surname chalk up a few literary brownie points? No E, No E, No E. That’s my mantra.”

Sojourn Journal V20, 2007

Against Mounting Odds
“I was fat. No polite or euphemistic term could skirt its way around my sizable derrière. My swelling thighs were splitting the seams of the only pair of pants that still fit me. A horseback riding class as an elective? Sure, why not? I envisioned a sleek prance through the meadows atop my dancing Arabian—weightless and floating instead of rupturing out of my wardrobe. Feeling terrible that my body was expanding more than my horizons, perhaps I could jockey myself into the notion of self worth. I forgot that I had to get on the horse first. How hard could opposing gravity be?”

Evansville Review V16, 2006

Crystal Ball
“My husband’s geode, a Christmas gift from his mother, came with instructions: Break open with hammer. The package advertising all-but-promised that the stone’s hidden cavity glimmered with crystals. Halved, each side would reveal a sparkling cave of translucent color. Richard used his teeth, then car keys, then scissors to extricate the prehistoric stone from its shroud of stiff plastic. The decorative encasement dwarfed the small rock in his palm. If only such over-protection safe-guarded the child inside me, a fragile creature no more formed than the steam of breath on Christmas Eve.”

Red Mountain Review, fall 2005

Fiftieth State Motto
“I walked up the backyard coconut tree. The trunk grew sideways. Fronds fingered red earth instead of reaching to rainbows. My bare toes gripped rough bark. Calloused luau feet numb to hot asphalt and scorching beaches made me kama’aina, proud local. I satin the cupped palm of the old crone’s trunk, my childhood perch. A young girl’s whispered secrets chased the wind through her dragging leaves. Tutu: Hawaiian grandmother. She curtsied, and I tread upon her skirts.”

Secrets & Confidences: The Complicated Truth About Women’s Friendships, 2004

Unplanned Unparenthood
“I deal with childlessness pretty well most other days. After all, I’m not Anne Boleyn about to lose my head because I can’t produce a prince. In the United States in the twenty-first century, my life is not without value simply because my uterus has a mind of her own. She has demonstrated repeatedly that she is adamantly, stridently opposed to motherhood. She wants a motorcycle. She wants to be a badass poet living life on the fringe in Amsterdam. She wants a lesbian affair. She wants her own damn room. She threw tantrums and pitched out the babies along with the bathwater. So be it.”

They Lied! True Tales of Pregnancy, Childbirth, & Breastfeeding, 2004

Half Mast
“The careful manipulation of my cycle through five kinds of hormonal drugs all led up to this momentous, orchestrated sex in order to conceive a much-wanted child. Richard had been the passive participant up until now. He accompanied me to doctor appointments for moral support, but his role was limited to watching. He rubbernecked while experts poked and prodded to locate the source of my fertility problem. Sometimes he and the doctor put their heads together over the ultrasound screen like Bo and Luke Duke bent over the hood of a faulty car engine.”

Knitter’s Gift, 2004

A Knitter in Hawaii
“A knitter in Hawaii is as pointless as an elevator for a one-story building. There’s no use for warm, woolen garments in a tropical climate. Polynesian natives wore little clothing for hundreds of years. When they did, they wore wraps of kapa, a pounded mulberry bark—essentially thick paper, a far cry from cable knit sweaters. Then the modest missionaries invented the muumuu, to the everlasting delight of stout ladies the world over, but there was hardly a need for scarves and socks. Clothes in paradise were for covering cleavage, not for cutting chills.”

Under the Sun V9:1, summer 2004

“Cocked up on its back wheel, my motorcycle charged the chain link fence. I clung to the handlebars, perched at a horse-rearing angle to the angry asphalt rushing below. Front wheel pawing the sky, the mechanical beast raced across the empty parking lot in a suicidal bid to escape its inept rider. I would be tossed onto the congested highway bordering the lot if the fence-top didn’t impale me first. But people don’t get hauled away from safety courses in body bags. My husband and I had enrolled in a motorcycle safety course—an oxymoron, to be sure, but not the place where I expected to meet my maker.”

Iris: A Journal About Women #48, spring 2004

Kicking the Habit
“They call me a Habitual Aborter. They being the medical practitioners, that is. The doctors and nurses scribble it on my bulging chart in hieroglyphics nobody can read, but the gist is clear enough. With self-discipline and a support group that meets in the basement of a church, I could kick the habit of spitting out embryos before they have a chance to cling to my uterine wall. Get the patch, get some medicated chewing gum, get some willpower, woman—must be what they’re all thinking.”

Room of One’s Own V26:3, fall 2003

Fill in the Blank
“The new doctor gives me pink pills, lovely like childhood candy. They are enchanting, round and squishy. They will turn my womb into a hospitable, puffy pink cloud where any sane fetus will happily and obligingly nestle. The pills have the added benefit of turning me into the bitch I’ve always wanted to be. I have plenty to be pissed about. I’ve had a popsicle stick scrape my uterine lining. I can now pronounce and spell words like hysterosalpingogram. The test names should be tough to articulate, given their pain. One must suffer the right to use them.”

Kalliope Journal of Women’s Literature V25:1, spring 2003

Slow Trains, fall 2002

Clean Sheets, August 2002

Not Suitable for Children (read it here)

“So, why don’t you just adopt? my friends and family all want to know.They cross their legs and wince when I tell them about the latest procedure. It’s as if they think changing tracks from biological to adoptive child is as simple as switching to Coke when a restaurant doesn’t carry your preferred Pepsi. Still, it would be the politically correct thing to do. Bring back an orphan from a third-world country and parade the wide-eyed infant around as proof that I really am the charitable person they know me to be, not this medical-techno-crazed, bio-clock-obsessed, slave of my ovaries and basal body temperature.”

Third Coast

Review of Melissa Delbridge’s Family Bible, fall 2009
Review of Ron McLarty’s Traveler, spring 2008