I’m sitting at the picnic table in my parents’ kitchen, the mess of art projects and nubbins of flowers picked by siblings and half-finished notebooks and Costco packs of food surround me. Walking down the hill this morning to make coffee cake before they left for church, I had to stop and soak in the lilting sounds of life on the air—the birds announcing their delight at the change in the weather, my brothers laughing on the trampoline, the wind hitting the blossoms in the trees and setting them to whispering. My sister was playing Minecraft when I came in, and while I dumped spices into the flour, she darted through, clambered up the counter and plopped white azaleas into dishes of water dyed with food coloring. My mother hugged me from behind while I made my brothers and me our first cups of coffee, and then they were gone and the house was still while the oven chirped and hushed itself into heat and the cake baked.

Here, I have been very lucky. Here, I have circled back and through and am again facing forward, about to launch myself at something unknown, leaving behind something I know all too well. Here, I try to savor up these moments and be grateful.

This last year has been a year of intense periods of growth and learning, which is an abstract thing to say, intended to make you nod and smile and agree (for it must be that you feel the same about this past bit of time, too) and leave me alone about what exactly I learned and how exactly I grew. But it would diminish the lessons to tell you, to try to sum up the breath of moments hitting my soul and inflating and tapping me into new shapes.

Usually I think that I want to be a fiction writer, that some day I want to make my livelihood with my hands and my pen, cooking up stories to delight and amuse and provoke. But I have been compelled to write poetry for the longest time, and I suppose I should be honest with myself that right now, I am not writing fiction; that right now I have a life that demands poems for survival and for joy. Poetry is the necessary outcome of my experiences, poetry is the colors on the wall when light hits the shards of moments on the floor of my head. Poems change me, too, each one turning and turning a moment over and around to look at it from funny angles, catching glimpses of myself reflected in it, and laughing in surprise when I sometimes see the sky looking back at me, too. 

When I came back to Richmond this winter, I knew I had a chunk of poems about these last few months that could probably be shaped into a chapbook—the story they tell is a beautiful narrative, but it’s also intensely personal (which is scary). Every time I sat down to write something else, this story pulled me back in, and I found myself arranging and rearranging and revising and refining these poems. The story was wiling itself into life. I couldn’t resist.

This last year I started reading tarot, and it has been an utterly joyful thing to play with for this English major who loves tropes and archetypes. And as I kept coming back to these poems, the framework of a tarot reading—which is to say, the narrative of a major life lesson learned at a moment in one’s life—bled into the organization of the story and I found that I had a poem cycle in the shape of a Celtic cross reading on my hands. So here we are.

On Wednesday, I shut the door on this season of my life and leave the country for the next two years to serve as an English teacher volunteer with the Peace Corps in the Kyrgyz Republic. I want to give this little book of poems to you as a parting gift, both to remove myself from it and let it live on its own (as it wants to do), and to try to share the beauty that blessed me with whoever wants to enjoy it as well. 

It’s a little terrifying to be leaving for so long, and it’s a little terrifying to trust that this is the right thing. And it’s a little terrifying to share these poems with the world and expose myself. But I’m learning that the things that scare me the most are the most satisfying things, well worth doing. These are the things that expand my capacity to love, to learn, to be present, to not be ashamed or afraid. So I’m going to give fear the middle finger and I’m going to go on an adventure and I’m going to share some poems with you. 

With love,
H

Poems


I love reading. When I was in third grade, my mom had me make a list of all the books I’d read in the last year. Once we got through the library loan records and my Sonlight reading list, I discovered that I’d read between two and three hundred books that year.

When I was in tenth grade, I fell behind and stopped working on most of my schoolwork for a lot of reasons–my mom had just had twins, I was babysitting for her a lot, I was stressed and probably depressed, I was socially isolated in unhealthy ways, and I coped by reading everything in sight. I read and drew and wrote lots that year, but mostly I read. Sometimes I think that books were my lifeline to sanity while I lived at home.

During college, people would ask me why I chose to be an English major. I’d jokingly tell them that it was so I could get good grades just for reading all the time like I would do anyway.

Paper writing intimidation, 2008.

Writing has always been part of who I am, as well. I wrote a historical fiction “novel” in high school, various short stories, and lots and lots of essays. In the last few years I have begun to explore poetry, write more fiction, and really focus on honing my craft.

But my favorite thing is still reading, challenging myself to read the greats and develop a good ear for quality language and voice and presence. To push myself to enjoy what I might not find easy in order to learn and stretch my own writing. And to just read for reading’s sake, savoring the presence of an author’s story and losing myself in someone else’s world and words.

Short stories are my very favorite of all. They fit well into a busy life. I love how they can be tight and focused like poetry, but the genre allows them to also be broader and more narrative. However, the form seems to be fading, and fewer authors are writing short stories and fewer schools are studying them. They’re not yet outdated, but there’s a slow fade happening for short stories in the publishing world. And that’s sad, because you’d think there would be a bigger market for them in the world of e-readers and online publishing venues and Twitter and blogs.

Inspired after attending a speaking event by Lorin Stein a few months back (promoting The Paris Review‘s new short story collection, Object Lessons), I decided I wanted to do more here with writing and promoting this great genre.

So here’s the plan:

During the first week of April, I’m going to host a short story week on Wine & Marble. 

And I want you to help.

I’d like to feature a short story every day from March 31st (Easter Sunday) to April 6th. 

That’s seven stories.

You write it, I’ll help you clean it up, and we’ll publish it here. 

I’ll be accepting submissions from now until March 23rd. Send them to me at wineandmarble@gmail.com. 

To kick this off, I’d like to give you a short story I wrote a couple years back. 

Click here to download Wine at Christmas.