Joy of the Pen 2023

The Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award: Juliana Delany for Trespass Point
Fiction Honorable Mention: Betty Culley for Widow Maker
Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award: Ann VanVolkenburgh Chang for After
Poetry Honorable Mention: Poetry Honorable Mention: Cora Kircher for Ark
Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award: Jean Konzal for Searching for Jenny
Nonfiction Honorable Mention: Fred Cheney for Brit
Nonfiction Honorable Mention: Bonnie Wheeler for Grandpa’s Porch
The Crowbait Short Play Award: Josh Gauthier for Last Call
The Crowbait Short Play Honorable Mention: Brian Daly for I’m Leaving My Body to Science

Verdi L. Tripp Fiction Award

Trespass Point by Juliana Delany

Nothing was broken.

She’d gone down to the dock to see the heron. The rocks had been slick with algae and her feet in her worn hiking boots had bolted out from under her with astonishing force. Leaning on a stick, she’d made it back up the hill, stopping every few feet to press on the wound with a bloody tissue.

In the kitchen, she saw under her mother’s old brass magnifying glass that the damage was really just one deep gash on her knee and some surrounding scrapes. Her thin skin had ripped like wet paper. There was swelling, and there would be bruises. Beck would be horrified.

But Beck would never see. Ginny cleaned the wounds, dressed them, replaced her shorts with a baggy pair of gardening pants, and got to work.

Her younger sister, Rebecca—called Beck since their school days—would be here in a matter of hours for dinner and an overnight, with her husband James and their two granddaughters. To show the girls the house again, and to catch up, Beck had said. But as the other owner of these five acres in Somerset, Beck had more on her mind. She was ready to sell. She had told Ginny as much in her last Christmas card.

By the way, we’re thinking it’s time to let the family place go, she had written in her pretty cursive, after recapping her family’s marvelous year. (A daughter had made vice president, a grandson was heading to MIT, and the whole family had gathered to celebrate Beck and James’ golden anniversary. Oh, and there was a new dog.)  Just so much cost and upkeep, and Somerset is so far north. We know you’d be more comfortable somewhere smaller and closer to family.

Ginny had not replied. She no longer sent Christmas cards, let alone replied to them.

Now she limped around the kitchen mixing bread dough and setting it under the blue tea towel to rise, marinating pork chops and slicing potatoes, making a salad with greens from the garden. She would give them no I-told-you-so moment, no weakness to whisper about. No evidence to support their theory that she was too old for life alone on this rocky coast.

She leaned against the old Formica counter and eased her weight off of her knee for just a moment. Through the wavy glass of the kitchen window, open to catch the July breeze, she watched the gathering of birds on the rocks below. Seagulls, cormorants, and ducks were settling in the sun. The heron stood apart, dignified and alone.

She thought—and it was a comfort, not a threat—I will die in this house.


After lunch she slowly scaled the stairs, her knee pounding with its own pulse, and made up the east-facing guests rooms—the green room (Beck’s as a girl) for Beck and James, the yellow one (her childhood room) for the two girls. The patterned quilts on the twin beds, made by Ginny and Beck’s grandmother, were worn silky and threadbare, but two on each bed did the trick nicely on a cool night. Both rooms were serene at this time of day, their dormers facing a grove of birches and pine saplings carpeted in lush ferns.

She would cook for her sister, and clean. Her mother had taught both daughters the art of gracious hosting; it was what you did for family. And though Beck, with her magazine-worthy home and packed social calendar, had taken the idea much further (to extremes, Ginny thought), making others comfortable was the  way both sisters honored their mother’s memory.

But still, Ginny had her limits. She would not give up her room at the front of the house, her parents’ old room, with its big oak bed and its wide view of water. Not for Beck and James, not for anyone.

Most of her chores done, she stretched out on a chaise on the porch in the scattered sunlight with her pant leg pushed up, a bag of frozen corn on her swollen knee, lulled by the whisper of leaves and the hum of bees on the hydrangeas.

Gazing at her battered legs, she was reminded of Beck’s, circa 1965, toned and tan in a pink mini-skirt. Beck had just returned home for the summer from college, gorgeous, blonde, and aglow with newfound poise. Ginny and her boyfriend of three years, James, had greeted Beck at the door, Ginny subdued in a knee-length skirt and old blouse. James—Ginny’s first real boyfriend, the only one who had ever mattered.  Who had accepted her shyness, understood her awkward social manner, shared her love of fresh air and birds and books.  

There was no way Ginny could have predicted what happened between Beck and James that summer. At first they had tried to hide it. It was obvious there were misgivings. But Beck always got what she wanted, and what she wanted, it turned out, was James.


The setting sun was beginning to spread like peach butter across the water when she heard the crunch of tires on gravel. A silver SUV followed the curves of the long driveway, laden with bikes. She took a deep breath, washed her hands and went out.

“Ginny! Hello there!” Beck jumped from the car with the energy of a much younger woman. At 75, she was still vivacious: well-cut ash-blonde hair, just the right touch of makeup, a trim waist. Her clothes—khaki skirt, oxford blouse, bright cardigan—were neat and pretty, even after a long car ride. She gave Ginny a cool hug, clear green taking in her sister’s thin gray hair and faded work clothes.

“Girls! Come say hi to Aunt Ginny,” Beck called to the granddaughters, who were emerging from the car. Her tone was light and fun. James, perhaps to give himself more time, was taking bags from the trunk. He moved more tentatively than the last time she’d seen him.

Here was the younger girl, Julia…was she ten or eleven now? All smiles. She kissed Ginny sweetly, handed her a tin. “Cookies!” she said brightly. A  pleaser, Ginny thought. A mini-Beck.

“And you remember Bella.” Beck’s smile took on a more determined cast as she looked toward the older girl, who was pulling her backpack on.

“Of course. You spent the whole week drawing birds, last time you were up,” Ginny said, but Bella didn’t look up from her phone, walked pointedly past the others and straight for the dock.

“Bella, come say hi first,” said Beck, her voice suddenly shriller and more strained. “Bella!”

So that’s what can rattle Becky, Ginny thought. A wayward granddaughter.

James approached, his smile tired but his eyes warm. “Ginny,” he said, “it’s good to see you.” He put out his hand and she shook it.

This had been their way for the past fifty years. They had not embraced since the day he had told her, tears in his eyes, that he would be marrying her sister.


Only four of them sat at the oak table on the screened porch for dinner.

“How many meals and puzzles and games happened at this table?” mused James, running his hand over the worn grain as he sipped his wine. Beck, passing dishes, didn’t answer, although she had used the table more than anyone. She had been the indoor sister, helping in the kitchen, making crafts, ironing her clothes in preparation for social events, while Ginny was rarely in the house in the summer. She would be fishing with her father and boy cousins, biking or sailing.

She had been sailing when she met James, just barely edging him out for first place in a sailboat race on the bay, and he had congratulated her with a huge grin, as if he had wanted her to win all along.
            Bella had declined multiple requests to come to the table but Julia was pleasant, complimenting the bread. After dessert, Ginny told her that she was welcome to go down to the dock to see the sunset.

“There’s a family of loons this summer,” Ginny said. “They’ll be out soon. You’ll probably see our heron. And if you’re lucky, an eagle.”

But Julia stayed in the living room, watching something on her laptop.

“Good pie,” said James.

“But I know this isn’t your crust. I’d know yours anywhere,” Beck couldn’t help pointing out.

“You’re right,” said Ginny. “It’s the pre-made kind from O’Donnell’s.”

Then Beck excused herself to check on the girls, and James and Ginny were alone. The bigtooth aspens rustled; the sun was halfway down.

“Gin,” he said, “That was a first-rate dinner.” She thanked him, hating how happy his words made her.

They talked briefly about the books they were reading and the PBS shows they liked, as was their custom. Then:

“The place looks good,” he said. “How has everything been around here?”

“It’s fine. Great, actually. A good summer.” The steps to the dock were crumbling, most of the ceiling fans didn’t work and some of the old windows didn’t close all the way anymore. No doubt James had noticed, but he wouldn’t hear any of it from her.

“It must be a lot, though, for someone our age.” They had been born the same year, with birthdays just a month apart. She remembered a birthday cake, the names Ginny and James in yellow icing, right here at this table. For a moment they shared, silently, the bizarre fact of their advanced years.

She flexed her leg slightly, repositioned her sore knee. Kept her voice light.

“It’s no problem at all. I’ve got Dave down the road to help. And there’s money in the house fund.”

“I know. And I know how much you love it here.” He smiled, and  raised a finger in recognition of the first loon call of the evening. Then continued: “It’s just that we worry about you. Beck in particular. She’s afraid, with us being in Boston and you so far away, and all of us getting older…”

Their eyes met fully for the first time that day. His, behind wire-rimmed glasses, were smaller and vaguer, but their humble intelligence had not aged. They still disarmed her. She looked away first.

“I don’t care what Beck thinks. This is my home.” She tried to keep the edge off.

“Ginny, please don’t take offense. I’m certainly not—” But he was cut off by Beck’s return. In her hand, a baggie full of something earthy and brown, which she thrust at James.

“Bella was not in her room. But her stash was,” she said.

James sighed, looking tired again.

Grandchildren are overrated, Ginny thought, not for the first time.

“Ginny, I do apologize,” James said. “There’s no excuse for this. But it’s a bad time for her.”

“It’s always a bad time for her, and I’ve had it,” Beck said. She poured a glass of wine,

her third.
            “Beck didn’t think we should bring her, but I thought it would be good for her. I’ll find her and talk to her.”

“No,  leave her! She can stay out all night if she wants to. I really can’t stand the sight of her right now,” said Beck.

For the first time in years, Ginny felt a pang of sympathy for her sister. As a parent, Beck had been unequivocally calm, cool and in control. But Bella was proving to be kryptonite to Beck’s superpowers.

Beck paused suddenly, as if remembering the task at hand, and inhaled a more serene face. “Did you two have a chance to talk?”

James remained silent. Ginny stood quickly, stiffening her face against the pain. “I think I’ll take a walk and watch the sunset,” she said. “We can do the dishes later.” She forced her bad leg forward.

From the kitchen she heard Beck say, “Did you tell her?” and heard James answer something in a low voice.

Then Beck again: “This has gone on too long. Did you see her limping?”

Picking up her father’s hand-carved walking stick at the door, and putting a flashlight in her pocket, Ginny made her way across the yard to the Point Path. How many times had she walked this path with Beck when they were children? What had they talked about, so long ago? She passed the spot in the yard where they had buried family pets, and an image came to her of Beck, nine or ten, face wet with tears, placing a stone marker. Three of Ginny’s dogs rested here as well; she’d buried her most recent, a steadfast shepherd named Lucky, just last fall.

The sunset had bathed the woods in clouds of coral. Grasping the guide ropes that Dave had installed, she moved slowly forward, hand over hand. The woods were filled with end-of–day birdsong and squirrel chatter, and she could hear a low hum of traffic from Somerset bridge. The hills and dips beneath her feet were so familiar that she barely looked down. The crisp scent of balsam relaxed and centered her.

She came to the clearing that opened onto Trespass Point, a string of granite boulders spilling into Somerset Bay. From pale pink to deep gray, the rocks curved toward the horizon like rough gems in a bracelet, creating a shallow cove. On the far side was deepwater, clear and cold, boats docked in the shadows. The cove itself was brackish; downed trees bobbed in the current as the tide went out.

Trespass Point had been nicknamed by her father because her family hadn’t originally owned it, but couldn’t resist sneaking onto it on summer evenings to watch the sunset.  It was on the point that James and Ginny had first kissed. Her head had come to just below his chin.

In 1958, Ginny’s father had purchased the point from its city owner, who hadn’t set foot on it in years, and made a Christmas surprise of it to the family. The name remained, and with it, for Ginny, the memory of her father: quiet, kind, a lover of nature. She could often feel his calm here, just as she still felt her mother’s warmth in the old family kitchen.


Bella was sitting on the granite bench that had graced the point for a century, it’s straight lines hacked from the local quarry. She was looking toward the mountains. You could see the national park from here, winks of fading light on glass as tiny cars ascended and descended its highest peak.

As Ginny drew closer, she saw that the girl’s hair was dyed a dull black and her eyes were outlined in smudged kohl. Her pale skin was rough and blemished. She must be fourteen or fifteen. A miserable age, Ginny thought.

She lowered herself to the bench beside Bella, forcing the girl to slide over. Bella did not look up. Ginny could smell the smoke on her. She had never minded the smell, like woods on a damp day.

They sat, an old woman and a very young one, and watched the water. Both had chosen outside air over other humans.

After a moment Ginny spoke. “Your grandmother owns half this land. She doesn’t care for it.”

Bella didn’t respond. Ginny wondered if the girl knew the family history, that her grandfather was the reason that Ginny had suddenly married a man she didn’t love, then ended the marriage, childless, a few years later. That she’d fled to Maine and been here ever since. Yes, there had been men over the years. But none with the intelligence, the patience, the solidity of James.

Beck or James would have no reason to bring up the past with their granddaughters. The story would die when Ginny did.

Ginny shifted her legs and continued. “I think you feel something for this place, though. I think you get it.” Bella was as still as the granite beneath them.

Ginny looked at the girl’s hands. Bella’s nail polish was black and chipped, and a ladder of silvery scars climbed her forearm. Ginny weighed, and decided against, the option to touch her.

“This place is yours too, you know. For whenever you need it,” Ginny said. Her knee throbbed and burned, her head ached. Suddenly she needed her bed.

“May I borrow your shoulder?” She leaned on the girl, dug in her walking stick, found her balance. Switching on the flashlight, she turned toward the house, whose windows hung like framed gold beyond the trees. Inside, her family was talking about the problem she had become.

She was a few steps down the trail, picking her way along the flashlight’s beam, when her grandniece spoke for the first and only time.

“Aunt Ginny! The heron!”

She turned in time to see the dark silhouette rising skyward, awkward legs trailing majestic wings.


Ginny woke late, and hurried to dress. Her wound had bled onto her sheets in the night, but had formed a soft scab. Her knee was stiffer and more swollen.

The family had taken out the canoes; Ginny could see them bobbing in the bay from the kitchen window. The dishes had been washed and put away. She stripped the beds, loaded the washer, made a quick potato salad with leftovers.

The four of them came in from the water flushed and windblown, Julia laughing about how they had almost tipped. Bella was quiet, but this time she sat at the porch table and ate a sandwich. James told stories about his own family’s summer house on the bay, which had been sold years ago and torn down to build new homes.

“These fancy new ones can’t hold a candle to the old one, though. Just boxes, shoddily built, with no character whatsoever. I miss that old place,” he said.

Beck said nothing in response. She tried a couple of times to change the subject, but James was unusually talkative.

After lunch, the family packed up their belongings for the ride down to Portland, where they would be staying with friends for a night on the way home.

Ginny helped James carry bags to the car.

“You’re bleeding. Just a little,” he said quietly.

She looked down at her knee.  A red stain had soaked through her pants. Too late to change; Beck and Julia were crossing the driveway toward them, laughing, arm in arm. Again, Ginny was struck by how similar they were.

“Ginny, it’s gone so fast!” Beck said. Her face wore the controlled Beck smile now. “It was lovely to be here, to see you. I know the girls loved it too.”

Ginny watched her take note of the blood stain. She looked around for Bella, who was standing on the dock facing the water. Ginny knew what the girl was thinking: Goodbye, bay.

“Ginny, we need to talk,” said Beck. In her hand was a large yellow envelope.

All her life, Beck had been seen and heard, appreciated and understood. Now she locked eyes with Ginny, spoke firmly and confidently. Professionally, even.

“I know you love it here, but James and I have decided there has to be a change,” she said. “This arrangement just isn’t working. I think you’ll agree that—”

“No,” said James, coming up behind her.

He smiled gently, almost apologetically, at the sisters, put a hand on his wife’s shoulder.

Beck’s mouth was still open. She glanced from husband to sister and opened her mouth wider, but James continued.

            “No, Beck. It’s okay. It’s all good.” He turned to Ginny.

“Thank you for a lovely time,” he said, taking her hand in his again.  “We’ll be back.”

Beck looked confused. “But the papers,” she began.

“No, Beck,” he said again. “Bella told me this morning she wants to spend more time here. At her family’s house. It’s the most she’s spoken to me in months. So we’ll be back.”

He nodded at Ginny, then put his arm around his wife. “Ready to go?”

Walking toward the car, Bella slowed slightly when she saw Ginny and straightened her hunched shoulders. She didn’t speak, but her smudged eyes, a deep blue-gray not unlike Somerset Bay, met her great-aunt’s for a moment. Ginny smiled at her.

“See you soon, Bella.”

When they were gone and the sounds of the woods and water were the only sounds, Ginny started down to the dock to see her birds.

Juliana Delany was born and raised in Philadelphia and has been a part-time resident of Downeast Maine for twenty years. She has worked for decades as a freelance writer and editor while raising four children, and has also served as a high-school board member, a children’s writing and chess instructor, a library volunteer, and a soup kitchen worker. In addition to a lifelong obsession with reading and storytelling, her interests include gardening, cooking, painting, cycling and kayaking. She is fond of dogs and wild birds.


Fiction Honorable Mention

Widow Maker by Betty Culley

If Leah had been married to Reggie when he had the accident, it would have been ironic and tragic, but also true that he died from a widow maker while working in the woods.

When Leah once informed Reggie that logging was rated the number one most dangerous job, deadlier even than roofers and pilots and ironworkers, Reggie didn’t deny it. In fact, he had names for the different ways a person could lose their life in the woods, names he didn’t invent but had been thought of by other loggers in the past.

Barber chair was when a tree started to fall over, but the hinge wasn’t correct, so it split up the middle of the tree. Spring pole usually involved a hardwood that was knocked over by another tree. It bent to the ground and was still rooted but it might look like a random limb lying there. When you start to cut the branches off the tree over it, it can spring back up with tremendous force.

Widow maker referred to a dead limb or top of a tree that came straight down from a great height. Sometimes it’s only the vibration of cutting that sets this deadly force in motion.

Leah and Reggie lived in the house she’d inherited from her parents, and he was cutting in her woodlot when he died, but they’d never talked about marriage. Reggie was almost fifty, twenty years older than Leah, and had never been married before.

            Reggie died in late winter, when the ground was barely hard enough for the tractor to move along the woods roads, and every day since he died, Leah stood on her front porch in the morning, looking out over the hemlock trees to the east, where the sun rose, and commented on the weather.

            “The clouds are moving fast today.”

            “It feels like snow in the air.”

            “The rain is freezing on the trees.”

            There was no one to hear her pronouncements, as Leah lived alone, and her job was probably one of the safest on the work hazard list—online geometry, chemistry and physics tutor.

            The only people who’d been stopping by were Reggie’s family, and that wasn’t because they were bringing her casseroles or desserts or crockpots of chili. Leah decided that’s what a widow would get, even though Reggie had been living in her house for five years now.

            First Reggie’s older brother Carl came for the truck. He drove there with his wife, and they didn’t come in the house. His wife stayed in her car and Carl leaned against Reggie’s truck in the driveway.

            “I signed for the bank loan,” he told Leah. “It’s his name and mine on the title.”

            “Keys are in the truck,” Leah said.

            Carl started the engine, and then got out of the truck, leaving it running and the driver’s side door open.

            He held up an unopened pack of Reese’s Pieces.

            “These must be yours. Reggie didn’t care for them. None of us do.”

            It would have been rude not to take them, so Leah did. She didn’t need Carl to tell her they were hers, that when Reggie bought gas up at the store, he’d also get her favorite snack.

            A month after Reggie died, his younger brother Jerome came for the tractor, the logging winch, and the chains. He’d planned ahead because he arrived in a flatbed truck with a young man she didn’t recognize.

            Leah heard the truck rumbling down the driveway before she saw it and went out on the porch.

            “I got some help to load the tractor,” Jerome said, pointing to the boy who stood next to the truck wearing a thin looking winter coat and no hat. Jerome had the same straight black hair as Reggie, but he didn’t have Reggie’s easy smile or flat stomach.

            Even though she’d already made her weather proclamation for the day – this wind seems to be coming from the south, she thought of another one to greet Jerome with.

            “Maybe the wind will dry out some of this mud,” she said to him. She couldn’t figure out if it was more polite to stand there and watch Jerome take the tractor, or to go inside and let him work without an audience.

            Finally, she said, “This wind sure makes it feel a lot colder,” and disappeared inside the house.

            There wasn’t much left that belonged to Reggie. His chainsaws were under a tarp in the back of the shed, because he always worried about those getting stolen, and the dresser she’d emptied out for him was full of worn T-shirts, plaid boxer shorts, and long underwear. In the closet were his good wool shirts and blaze orange hats and jackets.

            When Reggie’s sister Arlene comes for the chainsaws the snow is long gone and the first new leaves have started growing. Arlene is the next to youngest girl in the family, and the closest in age to Reggie. This time, Leah is already swinging on the porch swing Reggie hung for her last year. The yard smells like new green grass and pine needles.

            Arlene doesn’t smile, and when she speaks, she looks down and kicks at the gravel next to her car.

            “Carl and Jerome say they didn’t take his chainsaws,” she says.

            “Reggie’s?” Leah asks, as much to say his name as anything.

            “Yeah. Our chainsaw won’t start and Fritz wants to get a jump on next year’s wood.”

            At the same moment Arlene looks up, Leah yawns and stretches, and her rounded belly is very obvious.

            “Under the tarp in the back of the shed,” Leah says.

            Arlene doesn’t move at first. She stares at Leah’s belly with an expression Leah hasn’t seen on her before. But then Arlene turns and heads into the shed, coming out with one chainsaw in each hand, as if she doesn’t want to take the extra time to make two separate trips.

Leah is still thinking of a good weather comment to make when Arlene slams the trunk, waves once, and is gone.

            Marie, the youngest of Reggie’s siblings, shows up the next evening, when Leah is done with her work for the day. Three sessions of physics and one of chemistry. Her best friend from high school, Deline, is visiting and while Leah does her tutoring sessions upstairs in her office room, she can smell what Deline is cooking downstairs in the kitchen— beans, molasses cookies, and carrot ginger soup. And then after supper, Leah sits on the porch swing and Deline sits on the rocker, and Leah tells Deline the kind of things she thinks she would have told Reggie. That the baby moves all the time, that she’s never been so tired, that she doesn’t want to know if it’s a boy or a girl until its born.

            When Marie’s car pulls in, it starts raining, but Marie doesn’t rush over to the cover of the porch. She walks slowly, letting her hair get wetter and wetter.

            “Hi, Leah,” Marie says.

            Leah decides to take the lead this time.

            “Hi, Marie. I’ve got some nice winter shirts of your brother’s if you want them for your boys. And a pair of logging boots. And wool vests. You can have them all.”

            “No, I didn’t come to take anything,” Marie says, and pulls something out of her purse. “These are Reggie’s baby shoes. I don’t know if you want them, but if you do…”

            The shoes Marie shows her are stiff, white leather, and they look like they’d be hard on a baby’s soft feet, but Leah takes them and holds them to her chest.

            “Thank you,” she says, and scoots over on the swing to make room for Marie. Just to make clear what’s she doing, she pats the spot beside her and Marie is there in a second.

They swing together, finding a rhythm that feels effortless to each of them, as water pours off the roof.

            “Summer rain,” Leah says, to no one and to everyone.

Betty Culley is an young adult and middle grade author. Her debut young adult novel in verse, Three Things I Know Are True was the 2021 Maine Literary Award Winner for Young People’s Literature. Her first middle grade book Down To Earth won the Maine Library Association’s Lupine Award. She lives in a small town in Central Maine. Visit her website at


Margaret F. Tripp Poetry Award

After by Ann VanVolkenburgh Chang

We reach the trailhead early, 
meeting the sun, almost beating it, 
but not quite.
I clung to our bed this morning, as usual, 
and the sky to the east has already begun 
to glow.
For once, I'm bundled up against the chill.
Well aware you must be weary of my complaints 
about a discomfort so easily resolved, I've heeded 
your advice, for once.

The trail here is familiar, but foreign, at least this time of year.
I don't recall hiking it in winter, before. 
I check the map, then check it again, needing 
to be certain of our route.
Which is a joke, really, because I’ve never been certain at all, 
never sure of which path to take – not before 
and, certainly, not now.

I've often envied your inherent mastery 
of the landscape, your sense of the trail 
and of what lies beyond.
You've always seemed to know which way to go, 
mostly without a map, 
and I've sometimes been jealous of that.
You've always led with aplomb and a grin 
and a willingness to enjoy the journey, even the getting lost. 
I've sometimes been annoyed by that.
My breathing is heavy now, even on the flats, 
and I am keenly aware of how little I've moved, lately.
I feel stiff and tired and old.
I don't recall the trail feeling this long before.
Before seems like yesterday, sometimes. 
And also like a million different lifetimes ago.
I am suddenly tempted to stop, but I am not certain 
I will continue, if I do.  
In fact, I am certain I certainly will not.
And we need to reach the top, together.  

Then, I remember I've squirreled away your favorite beer,
emptied into my spare water bottle, and thinking about that, I smile.
A strange summit snack, I know,
but I also know that it would make you smile, too.
And I miss that, more than anything.

Except for the scent of the shirts, I buried my face in, 
when I found them on the floor, next to the hamper.
Or your predawn shower falsetto.
Or the way your chest felt, like the ocean,
beneath my sleepy head.

A lone crow calls out a warning, as my boots crunch snow.  
The trees fall away and the rock is smooth and rough, at once.
The sun appears, in all its glory, 
not a glow now, but a shine, 
a bright warmth.

And then I see it – the water.
The ocean.
Not the distant swells themselves, of course, 
but the blue-green mass of it, 
the constancy,
the ceaseless, soft beating.
One giant heart,
all that life within.  

I open my pack and I open the urn and then my hands are in your ashes 
and I am holding you again, holding you so tight.  
I can see the ocean and feel the sun upon my face.
I can see you, too, and I can feel you all around.
You've found your way, somehow, from beyond.

The sun is bright and I can feel its warmth on my skin, 
but I am cold inside, despite my many layers.
I would give anything to feel 
your warm, tight embrace,  
to rise and follow you, 
back to before.

Winner of the Bowdoin Poetry Prize in 2000, Ann VanVolkenburgh Chang recently returned to writing after a twenty year hiatus. Most mornings find her typing away under the covers before sunrise.  She lives with her two children in Brunswick.


Poetry Honorable Mention

Ark by Cora Kircher

There is a flood in the town 
where I used to live.
At night I am there in the bent trees 
and drowned fields. Salvation 
is granted in pairs as we grieve 
that stretched landscape. Heartbeat 
goes: witness, witness. 

And here, when the whale washed up,
kissed the sand with blue,
I was caught in the seams of its throat:
the blubber, the heaviness, the too-emptiness – 
the salt of it in my eyes.

You say: Land animals are only remembered 
when they die in a body of water –
when they unmake to oil. 
Strange how, on 
the aching timeline of geology,
we can move so quickly between 
drowning and burning. 

I say: A lake is not a lake if it does not end –
and how do you draw a border 
around this kind of loss?

I could prevail with the waters – 
stand on the tip of that knife
when all the high hills are covered,
and the rain collapses
to the bright landscape.

And in some versions of the story
the Flood is nothing more than divine impulse.
In others, retribution.

They’re saying out in the Atlantic
orcas crash to the ships with the intention 
of sinking. From within the ark 
I sing with them for revenge. 

Cora Kircher writes poetry and short stories and sometimes music. Cora is from New York's Hudson Valley and lives in Portland, Maine. Cora's work can be found in Canned Magazine, Daylight, and Tilted House Review.


Richard F. Snow Nonfiction Award

Searching for Jenny: My Aunt, My Mother, and me: A Family Memoir About Trauma Passed Through Generations (Extract) by Jean Konzal

Main Characters:

Jennie: My mother’s oldest sister, and her surrogate mother

Paula: Jennie’s youngest sister, and my mother

Jenn: Me, named for Jennie


This book is my truth. My Aunt Jennie’s autobiography (Part One) and my mother’s letters to me (Part Two) as found in this book are my creations.  As far as I know Jennie did not write an autobiography. She left nothing for her son, Lional, to explain what happened to her.

Her story as I have written it closely follows her life’s trajectory and for the most part is based on facts that were validated by my aunt’s own writings, family stories, family photographs and research about the times and places traveled.  These are words she might have written as a gift for her son had she lived.

My mother was a patient at the Brattleboro Retreat in Vermont one summer and there she underwent electroconvulsive shock treatment. However, the letters in Part Two of this book from her to me, while based on facts of what I know happened, are solely my creation.

My mother spoke very little about her early life and only when prodded. These letters are borne out of my need to know who she really was, what she thought, my need to relieve her anguish and what I wish she had told me.

Because there are so many gaps in what I know about my aunt’s and my mother’s lives I’ve invented stories to fill in the gaps. I call these “imagined realities.” They are based on research about the times and places in which they took place, and my imagination.

Part Three is my story told as truthfully as one can write about memories that keep morphing as the years pass.



Jennie  Chernyak

For My Son, Lional


                                                                 UTOPIAN DREAM

            In 1915 when I was thirteen, my sister Dora four, and Pauline two, Mama became pregnant again. We were all worried about her as the months went by because the doctor had warned Papa that Mama’s heart couldn’t withstand another pregnancy.  When her time came, Papa told me to get the midwife. I frantically knocked on her door shouting “Please come quickly.  Mama needs you now.”   The midwife was worried as soon as she saw Mama’s labored breathing.  Leaving me with Mama, she went downstairs to the grocery store to call for an ambulance. Mama said, “Jennie, if something happens to me, promise that you will take care of your sisters, Dora and Pauline.” With tears streaming down my face, I answered “I promise, Mama. Papa went to the hospital with her, leaving Dora and Pauline with a neighbor and me all alone waiting.  I never saw my Mama again.

Later that evening Papa returned home from Kings County Hospital. I remember him quietly opening the door to the dimly lit kitchen where I was waiting. 

My younger sisters, Pauline and Dora, were asleep in the bed we shared in the next room. “Mama is gone Jennie and so is your baby brother,” he whispered after he closed the door.  After a moment of shocked silence, I cried out, “You killed her! You made her have another baby. Now you don’t have a wife or a son.” I never forgave Papa. Mama remains in my heart even to this day.

After turning fourteen and dropping out of school I worked in a garment factory while still living at home with my father and my new stepmother. Eventually, I became a member of the Communist Party and left the United States for the Soviet Union.

Images of leaving New York are etched in my memory. Your father and I had our arms clasped tightly around each other with tears streaming down our cheeks. Everyone came to see us off, even my father and stepmother. We waved to them in the crowd on the New York pier as they turned into little specs, indecipherable from all the other specs in the crowd. We didn’t stop waving until we passed the Statue of Liberty.

We were going back to Russia, the land of our birth. That long ago journey from Russia to America had been bittersweet. We both had to leave grandparents whom we loved, and even though the pogroms had made life in Russia intolerable, it was the only life we knew. Now again, we were making a bittersweet journey, this time back to Russia, but not to the Russia of our memories, but rather to the Soviet Union, land of possibilities… so we thought.

            After our beloved baby, your sister Liebschen died, we were desolate. I had no energy for anything. But now we were going to help build the Soviet Union where workers were treated with dignity, where we could start our lives anew in this workers’ paradise. My only regret was saying goodbye to my blood sisters, Pauline, and Doris; to my newly acquired stepsister and dear friend, Yetta, and to my sisters-in-law, Esther, Tilly, and Molly. Al’s sister Clara was already in Berlin, Germany at the Eden colony where, not surprisingly, since this was just like her, she was making a presentation about the power of colonics as a curative for every disease imaginable. She planned to join us in the Soviet Union with hopes of finding a more receptive audience for her theories about nutrition and colonic cleansings.


            From the first moment we arrived in Leningrad, our naïve expectations were dashed by the reality of the harsh life in this desperate country. Back in the United States, because we couldn’t afford an apartment of our own, we shared an apartment with Clara, Clara’s husband, Kolya, and her sister, Esther; and then with friends when I couldn’t stand living with Clara any more.  But here in the new Russia, the Soviet Union, we had to share an apartment with four other families – people we didn’t know. Each family had one room to themselves. We all shared the kitchen and the bathroom. Walls dividing each room were as thin as air, leaving no opportunity for privacy. Food was scarce and hard to come by. Lice were everywhere. I lost weight and my hair lost its curl. I had to cut it short because of the lice. Your father had work, but the workers committee that ran the factory monitored his every move. He wanted to work building houses for people, but the commissars assigned him to a factory making weapons. Housing could wait.

After you were born in 1934, it got worse. You were placed in a day nursery because of my experience working in the Kid Kolony so long ago in New Llano. Now I wonder why I ever left that socialist colony in Louisiana that Anna and I hitchhiked to in 1924. Sure, it wasn’t the Socialist paradise I expected, but it wasn’t the hell I now face, I was thankfully assigned to work in the same nursery where you were placed. But even so the hours were long and I had to watch out that I didn’t seem to favor you. I was watched constantly, and any hint of favoritism was reported to the workers’ monitors. We were watched everywhere we went. They were especially suspicious of Americans and of Jews and we were both!


As the terror increased daily in 1937, the lack of privacy, created a claustrophobic fog permeating each room. The apartment house monitor kept copious notes about the comings and goings of all residents. Neighbors began to denounce neighbors hoping to save themselves. We couldn’t trust anyone. Friends were no longer trusted. Every day another American émigré disappeared. Your father kept beseeching me to return home to the United States, “This isn’t what we expected, Jennie”, he said day after day. But I was adamant. “Things will get better,” I assured him. I would not let go of my dream of a better life here. I couldn’t face going back to the United States to hear the mockery in the voices of all those who told me I was on a fool’s errand.

The two years that we agreed to when we signed up for this new life came and went. The authorities confiscated our American papers. Now we couldn’t go back. Desperate, I sent a letter to my sister Paula pleading with her to go to the Communist Party headquarters in New York City to get a letter attesting to my loyalty to the Party. Perhaps such a letter would help us clear my name here.

It’s been over two months since I sent that letter. I have heard nothing from her. My last hope is dashed. Nothing can save us now. We are descending into hell. Now here I sit hurrying to finish this sentence so I can help your aunt, Clara, pack for her trip back home. After two years here she’s leaving. She, too, has lost faith in this country. Somehow, probably through her friend Nikita Khrushchev, she has an exit visa. She tried to get one for us, but since we were already under suspicion and had to surrender our papers, she failed. She leaves tomorrow.

I have never prayed in my life, but as much as we have fought in the past, I’m praying that she makes it out of this hellhole. She has promised if she gets out, she will not forget you. She will make it her life’s mission to find you and give you this story of my life.




My brother, Philip and I, both in our early teens were out on a mission. Today was Mom’s birthday. We had pooled our money to buy Mom a birthday gift and found the perfect gift in Macy’s, a green stone necklace. Mom would love it! On our way back to the bus stop, we passed a florist. And with the few dollars we had left, bought four red roses.

When we got home, we wound the necklace around the roses and put them back in the florist’s box excitedly waiting for Mom to get home from her job. As soon as Mom opened the front door, we rushed to her shouting, Happy Birthday! and pushed the box of flowers into her arms. Mom looked at us with a blank stare at first; then she angrily said she had a miserable day and needed to rest. With that she went to her bedroom to lay down. We never did learn exactly what happened at work that day; other than for some reason she had almost lost her job.

Years later she wrote us a letter asking for forgiveness. Here’s what she said: “I couldn’t stop thinking about it all the way home. Then you and Philip jumped on me with your gift.  When I opened the box of roses, I was unable to comprehend what you had given me. All I could think of was that I had just almost lost my job and here you were spending money on something I didn’t need or want at that moment.  I know I hurt your feelings all those years ago. I can’t stop thinking about it. Can you ever forgive me?


Dear Jenn,

After she left, I received letters from my sister Jennie off and on for the next two years. First, they were long descriptions of life in Leningrad. Life was hard, living in one room of an apartment shared with others, good food hard to come by, bedbugs, lice, and neighbors denouncing neighbors to the building monitor. But there were still dreams of a better life to come. A son was born, Lional, and a photograph or two. Gradually, though, the letters got more desperate.

And then I got the last letter that I ever received from Jennie. She begged me to get a letter from the American Communist Party, declaring she had been a loyal member. I tried. I have a vivid memory of that day.

            I was standing alone on the corner of 23rd St. and Broadway huddled against the cold wind, shivering with despair. I didn’t know what to do next. I knew I had failed. The letter that arrived from my sister Jennie the previous week was carefully folded in my coat pocket, torn from constant handling as I read and reread it. Jennie’s note implored me to get something, anything, from the Communist Party, attesting to the fact that she was a member in good standing.

In the tear-stained letter, Jennie told of jealous neighbors in her apartment complex in Leningrad falsely accusing her of not being a good communist, of being an enemy of the people. I knew I had to do this, but had put it off for days, paralyzed by the ominous gloom that seemed to be holding me in place. I wonder if this was the start of my lifelong struggle with depression.

            That morning, I finally forced myself to act. I braced myself against the fear rising in my stomach and took the elevator to the eighth floor of the office building on 23rd St. The office was filled with people busily working at their desks, but there was an eerie quiet, only broken by the click, click, click of the typewriters. Nobody was talking. The air seemed thick with fear.

The receptionist, a thin, severe looking woman in her early 50s, looked up when I approached her, took down Jennie’s name, opened a book with lists of names, and slowly moved her finger down the column, whispering, each name slowly and precisely to herself. And then she stopped. She looked up at me with an icy stare, and said no such letter was possible, and that I must leave immediately. With that she slammed shut the book and resumed her work without another word. I will never forget that morning. I can remember every detail.

I looked around at the other workers in the office. None of them looked at me. Defeated, I turned and left. Back down on the busy street, I never felt more alone. While standing there in a daze, Anna, an old friend of Jennie’s came into view. I called her and asked her for help. She rushed past me in tears. “Go away I can’t be seen talking to you.” she whispered.

            A few months later, I received a letter from Al, telling me that Jennie had died of pneumonia, and he expected to be arrested soon. He begged me not to forget their son Lional, who some cousins had begrudgingly agreed to take in, and he begged me to promise to look for him when it was safe to do so. I never forgot about Lional. I never forgot the promise I made to find him.

            I haven’t stopped crying since writing this. It is as though a huge dam has broken in my heart. I felt responsible for my sister Jennie’s death. Once I learned about the truth of what was happening during Stalin’s Reign of Terror, I couldn’t face it. I had failed Jennie. I learned to bury my guilty feelings so deeply I didn’t know what I was feeling.

            I was haunted by Jennie’s death, and my guilt. I desperately wanted to find her son. If I could never see Jennie again, at least let me find him. I wanted to feel Jennie’s breath through him. For Jennie. For me. But as the years went on, I lost hope I would ever find him.

And then, I heard from Clara. She found Lional.

                                                                               Love, Mom.


(for whom I was named)



As I was packing my suitcase for my trip to the Soviet Union in 1990, I worried I wouldn’t remember the events of this trip. After all, hadn’t my husband always remarked that my bad memory makes “every day a new experience” for me. I needn’t have worried. I have a photo album of memories from that trip embedded in my mind.



There are no Coincidences.

“Jenn Chernyak, Department of Education Grant Program. May I help you?” “My name is Jake Laferriere. I’m a teacher at Lake Region High School in Naples. I want to speak with you about a project I’m working on to see if we might qualify for a grant from your office.”  “Please, tell me about it”, I said, as I did every day, not expecting anything that would make me stop doing what I was doing. “I’m planning an exchange trip to Novosibirsk in Siberia in the Soviet Union next April for a group of students from my school. Is this something that might qualify for a grant?” Jake asked. My heart stopped for just a moment. Novosibirsk? Siberia? Was that anywhere near Novokuznetsk, I wondered to myself.

“I don’t know. I’ll have to see if we can help fund travel outside of the country.” I said—and then blurted out, “I’ll find out, but even if we can’t, do you need any additional chaperones? Can I go with you? I’ll pay my own way, of course.” And then I briefly explained my interest.

“Since locating her nephew, her long-lost sister’s son Lional, in Siberia in the Soviet Union, in the mid 1950s, my mother, Paula, corresponded with him and sent him packages of clothing. Her letters were always carefully worded for fear they would cause him trouble with the Soviet authorities. She learned that he lived and worked as a science teacher in the heart of Siberia, in Novokuznetsk, with his wife, Zina, daughter, Galina, and son, Alexander (also known as Sasha).”                  

“My mother always dreamed of meeting Lional and through him, touching her sister, his mother, Jennie, once again. Now in a very round-about way, through this opportunity to join your group, while my mother won’t be making the trip, I hope I will.”  

The Trans-Siberian Railway

Our Atlantic flight to Moscow with a layover in Helsinki, was uneventful. Our long ride on the Trans-Siberian Railroad, was anything but. After greeting us and picking us up at the airport our hosts took us on a quick bus ride around Moscow ending at the train station where we boarded the train. Each car had a long narrow hallway with windows on one side of the car. The other side was comprised of separate compartments, each with four berths—two uppers and two lowers. Bathrooms were at one end of every other car and each car was outfitted with a samovar and glasses in intricately designed metal holders for tea served by dour matrons. 

Bleary-eyed and almost delusional from lack of sleep for almost twenty-four hours, we clambered onto the train, dragging our luggage behind us, found our berths and collapsed. Our journey had begun.

Finally, after two nights and two days, bad food, and increasingly foul bathrooms, we arrived in Novosibirsk where we were greeted by young girls with the customary gifts for visitors: bread and salt.

At the station we were introduced to our “home” hosts and bussed to their apartments in Akademgorodok, the scientific center of Novosibirsk. Our students, the other two chaperones and I, were spread out among teachers and scientists from this science city. I was assigned to Nadia, an English teacher at the high school and her son, Yuri, in her small apartment in a high-rise apartment building. We took off our shoes and donned slippers upon entering the small apartment.

Nadia and Yuri, doubled up in her bed so I could have Yuri’s. They fed me Russian delicacies for which I’m sure they had to stand on long lines and spend more money than they had ever spent on food for themselves. They also welcomed my cousin Lional and his family into their home when they arrived soon after I did.


 “The first Saturday morning of our visit, still in my bathrobe, there was a knock on the door. Nadia opened it and there stood, Lional, with his wife Zina, and son, Sasha. Nadia called, “Jenn, it’s your family.” I rushed to the door and we fell into each other’s arms, hugging and crying. We had never met before, yet I felt we had known each other forever.

We settled in the small second room that served as Yuri’s bedroom, as well as the dining room and living room. Seated on the bed, chairs, and the floor we tentatively began to exchange news of each other. 

“My mother, Paula, wishes she could be here, but she’s not able to travel.”

“I teach in Novokuznetsk. Zina’s brother works in the coal mines and her mother, Baba Manya, lives nearby.”

“My husband, Bill is a school administrator and my son, Gregory, goes to college in New York City.”

With Nadia translating we had no trouble communicating. But midday Nadia and Yuri had to leave and we were left alone. Now communication became more difficult. Neither Lional, nor Zina spoke English and I didn’t speak Russian. Sasha had some rudimentary English from his high school English class. Between Sasha’s limited vocabulary, sign language and lots of charades we managed. By the end of the afternoon, we were quite comfortable with each other.

That evening, Lional’s daughter, Galina and her baby daughter, Yana, arrived from Omsk. We all gathered in the small room once again for dinner. After dinner we talked late into the night while Lional shared his life’s story.

Speaking in a deep sad voice, he intoned from memory a story he must have told many times before; he speaking in Russian and Nadia translating into English. The story was pieced together from shards of information from his memories, from his visit to the apartment building in Leningrad where his parents lived before they died, from documents he was able to get from the authorities, and from stories told to him by Clara, his father’s aunt, who was responsible for locating him in the 1960s.

The room was perfectly still as Lional spoke and as Nadia translated. He spoke of how he survived the siege of Leningrad in an orphanage, of how his parents met while living in the United Sates, their lives in Leningrad, and his visit back to the apartment building where he lived with his parents as a young child in Leningrad, in search of more information. While I don’t remember many of the details of his monologue, the depth of his grief and despair was familiar. It was reminiscent of what my mother struggled to hold buried deep inside her heart.

Afterwards, because it was late, too late to catch a train back to Novokuznetsk, Nadia graciously invited them to stay the night.

The next morning, after saying our farewells, Lional, Zina, Sasha, Galina, baby Yana and I rode the train another eight hours east further into Siberia. We disembarked in Novokuznetsk and took a bus to their apartment complex—a group of bleak neo-Soviet style concrete buildings in this polluted coal-mining town. We had to climb the stairwells to their 8th floor apartment since the elevators hadn’t been working for some time. It was painful to watch Lional struggle up the eight flights of stairs. This was the first of many reminders of the hardships he faced.

When I met him, Lional was already suffering from a serious heart condition, most likely caused by the combination of the toxic coal mining environment, and the lingering effects of his difficult early childhood during the siege of Leningrad, and perhaps with what was a congenital heart defect similar to what led to his grandmother’s early death while giving birth to a stillborn son, the son his grandfather longed for.

I spent two days with Lional’s family in an apartment similar to Nadia’s. Lional and Zina taught me how to make pelmeni, the Russian dumpling that originated in Siberia; told me about the visit Lional’s  aunt Clara had made to see him when he was still living in Leningrad and saw the photos of Lional’s parents and grandparents Clara brought and gave to him, met Zina’s mother, Baba Manya, and her brothers who worked in the coal mines; went to visit Sasha’s high school and speak with his English teachers who were excited to speak with me, a native English-speaker, since they had never had that opportunity before; and most exciting of all, traveled with Lional’s family once again on a train to their country dacha—a small country cottage built by Lional and Zina in a community of dachas.

We boarded the local train that took us to the dacha, Once there we walked on a dirt path for what seemed a long distance, not only in space, but in time as well, to finally reach their dacha. Surrounded by gardens and a mysterious outbuilding on the edge of their lot, was their cottage—a square building made of wood with two levels. Inside was one large room with the kitchen on one end separated by a stone oven/stove from a living/sleeping room. A staircase on one side of the room led to a sleeping loft above.

Lional and Sasha left the house soon after we arrived while Zina, Galina, the baby, and I stayed inside and unpacked the packages of food we brought. After a while Lional and Sasha came back and Zina and Galina told me they had a surprise for me. They took me outside to the mysterious outbuilding that now had smoke coming out of its chimney. This is what Lional and Sasha were up to! We entered the small building that turned out to be a Russian banya, a sauna. We entered the steaming room where, following custom, we stripped bare and, after throwing water on the hot rocks, Zina and Galina washed my hair.  We took turns sitting on a small wooden stool and beat each other with birch branches.

In this cold Siberian April weather, I could barely catch my breath. I wasn’t sure what was warming me more, the steaming heat from the hot stones or the love circling the three women in that dacha. I was having another one of those, “I can’t believe this is happening to me” moments similar to the many I have had since landing in Moscow.

Leaving Novokuznetsk was bittersweet. I had to say good-bye to Lional, to Sasha, Galina, and baby, Yana, not knowing if I’d ever see them again. I could delay saying good-bye to Zina since she was accompanying me on the return train ride to Novosibirsk. Saying good-bye to Zina that next morning as she left for the train station after safely returning me to Nadia’s apartment was difficult. I had spent the last two days nestled in the bosom of the family I felt I had known forever.


Tell your mother……

Afterwards our group flew back to Moscow and drove west to another science city, Dubna, for an overnight stay. Here I met, David Bell, a member of the group who arranged our visit. David was born in America of Jewish Russian immigrants to the United States who settled in Texas.

This is strange enough. But the story gets stranger still. His parents were socialists who decided to return to Russia after the Bolshevik revolution. Here, just as in my aunt Jennie’s story, they were persecuted during the Stalinist purges and David’s father was sent to Kazakhstan where he died. David and his mother survived in Dubna where he earned his living as an English translator.

            I told him my Aunt Jennie’s story, and how my mother had carried her guilt with her all these years; her guilt for not being able to get a document from the Communist Party in New York, declaring Jennie was a good Communist. David spoke directly to my mother on a tape recording, and said,

“Paula, dear, you must not continue to carry this guilt. There was nothing you could do to save your sister. You tried your best, but believe me, the Party was in control. No matter how much you tried, you would not have been able to save her. Don’t blame yourself.”

I cried when I heard him, say these words, as though he was also speaking to me. I could feel the weight my mother had borne all those years falling from her shoulders.

Returning Home

I couldn’t wait to share these words with my mother. When I returned to the United States I arranged to meet up with my family. I reserved hotel rooms for the seven of us in a hotel halfway between where we all lived. As soon as we settled in our rooms, we gathered in one hotel room where I gave them each the souvenirs I had for them, scarves, tee shirts, and trinkets. And then I gave my mother an extra gift, one I thought would be the best gift I had ever given her, David Bell’s taped message.

When it was over there was silence in the room. Then some chatter from all of us, but not Mom. She was not smiling, not crying, just silent with no response. I was disappointed, hurt, that this grand gesture was not appreciated; just like I felt those many years ago when my brother and I gave her the beautiful green stone necklace which she rejected.

It has taken the many years I have been working on this book, the many revised manuscripts, to understand that I could never realize my childish dream of relieving my mother’s trauma inflicted anguish. I was not responsible for her anguish and couldn’t erase it from her life no matter how hard I tried.

Jean Konzal, born in Texas and raised in New York City, found her true home in Maine. She loves the rhythms of the changing seasons, the farmer’s markets’ bounty, the people she has met, and being close to her son Greg, her daughter-in-law, Angela, her three grandchildren, Eliot, Noah and Michael, and her granddog Earl.

Jean and her husband, Bill, and their son Greg first moved to Maine in 1983 where Jean was an educational consultant with the Maine Department of Education. After leaving Maine in the early 1990s, Jean earned a Doctorate in Educational Planning, Policy and Evaluation at The University of Pittsburgh with the support of a Kellogg grant. Her dissertation was the first to be presented as a reader’s theater performance. Until her retirement, Jean was an Assistant Professor of Education at The College of New Jersey and for the three years prior to retirement served as chair of the Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education. 

Once retiring to the Two Echo Co-Housing Community in Brunswick, Maine in 2007, Jean never looked back, spending her time learning how to grow vegetables, performing at the Theater Project and with the Center Stage Players, working on her memoir with the support of her writing group, taking up photography, and more recently helping to found the Thornton Oaks Social Justice Group. As my husband says “We’ve had a good life.”


Nonfiction Honorable Mention

Brit by Fred Cheney

We got him before I started hunting, which meant I was young according to the standards of our small town. My father taught me guns—their maintenance, use, and most of all safety—and Brit taught me hunting. Generally, when the three of us were out, Brit had his way on how long to spend in a particular cover or when it was time to swing to my side of the hunt. Only rarely would Dad point out for him a new location. The dog seemed to know best.

            Sometimes we’d lose sight of him when the going got dense. That usually meant that he was frozen on point, one of us would walk to where we’d last seen him. There he would be. Most of these times we could draw a straight line from his muzzle and see a crouching woodcock. Then we would “walk the bird up,” and shoot away. These times, the retrieval was on us because spaniels don’t like the taste of migratory birds. They like the scent, but not the flavor. We liked the taste well enough to spend a good deal of time in the field when a woodcock flight came through, even with the added burden of fetching the downed bird.

            Partridge—I was in my thirties before I heard the word “grouse,” and I’ve never used it myself. Partridge were another matter. They didn’t hold the way woodcock did. Brit knew the difference. He’d forego following the scent head on, but take the scent in the air and circle around in order to flush the bird our way, or into a space where we’d have a good shot. After the gunfire, if successful, he’d eagerly perform the next task. Partridge are just the color of dead leaves and can be difficult for a person to find. Brit and his nose made it look easy. He’d find the bird in one pass, hold it gently in his mouth (with, I swear, a trace of a grin), and bring it to us. Dad would hold his hand down, Brit would place the bird softly there, and we’d both say the things dogs live for. “What a good boy.” “Best dog in the world.” “We’d be lost without you, Brit.”

            When I was in high school and hunting without Dad, I taught him to put the bird in the game pouch of my hunting jacket. But with Dad along, Brit knew the protocol.

            One day Brit and I went hunting over by Dinsmore’s Crossing. At one time there’d been an old farm down there on the side of Egypt Field. It had had an orchard of sorts. However, the whole enterprise had gone by long ago, and nature took its course. The forest reclaimed itself. The canopy was somewhat tight overhead, but under that it was generally open enough to see and shoot. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the placement of the apple trees, but there were a lot of them mixed in with the other undergrowth. They’d just show up, partridge and all.

            It wasn’t a problem for Brit; his skills were avian, not pomological. And this day gave him lots to work with. The birds were everywhere. Lots of them.

            The other thing peculiar about this day was the wind. It was blowing a gale. I don’t presume to use “gale” in any Beaufort Scale sense, but I do know I couldn’t hear the logging trucks back there on the White Road. I felt that wind push into me when I turned just so. I learned to be ready for it. It was blowing out of the northwest and cold, but cold wasn’t the problem.

            The gale affected my shooting, negatively. Brit put up bird after bird for me, and I missed them all. Undeterred, he’d reapply himself to his mission. Time and again, I would fail. That day I could have filled four limits (I’ve never gone over one.), but I didn’t have a single bird. Not even a feather wafting down. Finally, he put up two birds, flying straight away from me, in an uncharacteristically open clearing. I couldn’t wish for anything easier, a thought shared by Brit, I’m sure. Three shots and nothing. I gathered up my empties and put my last shell into the chamber, noting that I had started with a full box.

            I looked around for Brit and found him lying on the ground with his head pointed back to where we’d left the car. He was quitting. I knew no stern commands or even a switch would get him back on the job. It was my fault, and I owned it. Besides, I didn’t blame him.

            I headed back for the car and called for him to follow. He sort of followed, but he made a point not to heel. He just walked along with his head to the ground. I could tell that his sniffer was turned off. We were passing through a swampy place where the woods road had been built up a bit. The alders crowded in, thick.

            To the surprise of us both, a partridge flushed, almost at my feet, and sped off to my right at a 90-degree angle. Shooting to the right had always been difficult for me, but I wheeled around and fired just an instant before the bird went out of sight in the alders. There. That was the end of that box of shells.

            Then we both heard the thud of the bird hitting the ground. Brit’s head popped up, and he bounded out of sight. Smugly, I sat down on the embankment and unzipped my game pouch. On schedule Brit appeared with the bird in his mouth. This time his grin left nothing to the imagination. I indicated the game pouch, but he didn’t respond. Dad-fashion, I offered my hand, but he walked right past me, and on up the trail. To bird hunters, this is like the 8th deadly sin for a dog. But on this day, I could hardly consider myself a bird hunter by any measure.

            Obediently, I followed him up the trail to the car. I opened the door for him and tipped the front seat forward, so he could climb in the back. I got in, turned the car around. It was a couple miles back to the house. As I was turning in the driveway, I felt his chin on my shoulder and our day’s bounty rolled into my lap. It seems all was forgiven.

Fred Cheney lives in Bowdoinham on the property where he grew up.  He has been to Silverton, and talked with Bill Staines.


Nonfiction Honorable Mention

Grandpa’s Porch by Bonnie Wheeler

     Grandpa used to say, “I’m just sitting on my porch watching the world pass by.” Sharing Grandpa’s porch time was fun for the grandkids. He played Checkers and Dominoes with us, often saying, “You sure you want to make that move?” We would rethink, make a better move and both of us would smile.

     He often told newcomers about killing a large rattlesnake and keeping the rattler in an envelope, asking if they would care to see it? Of course they wanted to see it and would pick up the envelope and start to open it. It would begin to move and rattle. He had cleverly wound a rubber band and bobby pin to make that noise and scare us to death. It wasn’t funny the first time you opened the envelope, but you laughed your head off when someone else took a peek at Grandpa’s Rattlers.

     Grandpa told us the Oklahoma Scissortail birds could cut your fingers off if you bothered their eggs. We eyed those long tails with fascination and left their eggs safely in the nest. He also shared his wisdom about if you could sprinkle salt on the tail of any bird, you could catch it. So I would go out with the saltshaker, hide on the porch where the honeysuckle grew thick and try to catch a bird. Grandpa would encourage my efforts as I darted here and there, slinging salt. This would finally end when my mother said, “Bonnie, quit wasting my salt.”

     Grandpa had a small, locked safe that contained assorted important papers, a box of Baby Ruth candy bars and a carton of Camel cigarettes. My older cousin Gaye could open that safe with a hairpin. One day when Grandpa was out working the farm, she opened the safe to get us a candy bar and decided to snitch a pack of Camel cigarettes; of course I was all for having my very first smoke! We took matches from the kitchen and ran out behind the barn where we lit up and we choked and we coughed and we gagged. We decided that smoking was not all that glamorous and certainly not any fun. Now we had a problem. What to do with the remaining cigarettes? We couldn’t take them back opened, so there was only one thing we could do—dig a deep hole and bury those Camel cigarettes!

     That night, after supper, we were sitting on the porch enjoying the cool evening and the scent of the honeysuckle when Grandpa said, “An interesting thing happened today. I put poison in a pack of Camel cigarettes because of the mouse problem. I guess it worked. The cigarette pack is gone. He never mentioned it again, and continued talking about what a good supper we had. That supper was beginning to feel very upsetting in my stomach. Gaye and I looked at each other, leaped from the porch and ran to the barn, prepared to die.

     We looked up at the stars in the sky and the moon and the farm with the people we loved and we were so miserable, certain that it was our last day on earth—all because we had stolen those horrible tasting cigarettes. We were very surprised to wake up the next morning; we had tried to keep each other awake all night. We waited every day for a week to die, and then decided that the pack we had taken was not the poisoned one. Grandpa said not another word about cigarettes, but he sure smiled a lot that week. To this day both Gaye and I are non-smokers.

     Grandpa lived to the ripe old age of 93, alert to the end. By his bed he had a box of candy and insisted everyone have a piece. When you opened the box, a covered coil spring would pop up in your face and he would laugh. He continued to drive his car into his 90s, driving no faster than 15 mph. If he passed us walking home from school, he would slowly pull over and ask if I wanted a ride home. Honestly, I did not; I was enjoying walking with my friends and knew if I rode with him, they would beat me walking. But I always got into Grandpa’s car. Why? Because we loved our Grandpa and gratefully accepted whatever he offered. Could be a candy bar, a game of checkers, an envelope with a rattler inside or a place on his porch, as we happily watched the world go by.

Bonnie Wheeler


The Crowbait Short Play Award

Last Call by Josh Gauthier

You can read it here (pdf to preserve original format):

Josh Gauthier is a fiction writer and playwright working across genres. Until recently, he also worked for 8 years as a public librarian and educator. A graduate of the Stonecoast MFA program, he has been published and produced in a variety of places. His debut novel Land of Outcasts released in 2021. Find him online at


The Crowbait Short Play Honorable Mention

I’m Leaving My Body to Science by Brian Daly

You can read it here (pdf to preserve original format):

Brian Daly wrote the book, music, and lyrics for SQUEEZE ME!, LAUGHING ALL THE WAY, and COME OUT SWINGIN’! His comedy CAULDRON BUBBLE is licensed through YouthPLAYS. Brian’s middle grade novels are Caveman Dave (ABDO) and Big and Hairy (Minstrel Books). He also wrote the screenplay adaptation of Big and Hairy for a Showtime cable feature (same title) starring Richard Thomas. He is a member of the Writers Guild of America West and the Dramatists Guild.