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Mexican Hat Dance
by Betsy Mars

Golden, capped in the strong sunshine
against my father’s shoulder I stood tall,
and between my parents I felt alive

in this land so distinct and familiar.
The air was redolent with chocolate and spice,
electrical with lightning storms and surging hormones.

Taking the leap, cliff divers descended
in sheer drops for my entertainment
as I ate up the scenery and the sensation of being weightless.

My hat perched at a jaunty angle,
confident in a way I never felt
at home in a strange land.

Between pulpy bulls and bleeding fruit
proffered from vendors at the beach, I felt
like Hemingway discovering his muse —

but much less courageous,
cowering at night in the hotel room,
thunderstruck and hatless.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me in Mexico at age 13. This is one of very few photos that exist of me in a hat. Hats were my mother’s domain, and she wore them well. I have no idea where this hat came from or why I was wearing it, but this photo captures a side of myself I rarely see in photos.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  I hesitated to write for this prompt because, to me, hats were something that only my mother could pull off. When I wear them, I usually feel like a fraud, as if I am taking on a fake identity. Someone more bold. This photo brings back one of my favorite memories involving my parents. We took a trip to Mexico which was perhaps the first time I was abroad since leaving Brazil at age six.  It was an exciting and sometimes disturbing trip, but fueled my love for travel and experiencing other cultures.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Betsy Mars is a writer, traveler, mother, animal lover, and educator who is wearing a number of hats these days. Her work has been published in several anthologies, by Silver Birch Press, and soon will be published in the California Quarterly Journal and by Cadence Collective. Her writing is a means to define her identity after many decades of blurriness.

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That Hat
by Terrence Sykes

That hat — that cool cat hat — I rarely wear a hat
But there I was in Los Angeles & was going to meander
That Pacific shoreline from Venice Beach to the far side of Santa Monica
That hat I bought at the 99 Cent Store … was it one of Sunset ….no
     LaBrea

That hipster hat make me look different for several spoke to me in
     Spanish
But pale Irish me with that touch of Cherokee that made me look Asian in
     my youth
That bookstore down on Venice Beach …French Bulldogs everywhere
That hat told me took me around the globe ….It’s a Small World .. is it not

That hipster sat down at Flake on Rose Avenue & composed cool poems
But it took a year or two to get them published in journals but so what
That Pacific breeze was calling my name & that thrift store I adore on
     Main
That hat shaded my eyes so that I could see … handsome joggers and
     skaters

That hat was a good luck charm — for I found fifty bucks in cash on the
     sidewalk
But I spent it on a dreadful meal at the Getty Center… not so fancy restaurant
     after all
That art … the art of being a hipster in a hat and that ain’t all …if I do tell
     the tale
That hat strolled with me all over LA …taking my memories.. but I left it
     behind

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: That hipster sat down at Flake on Rose Avenue & composed cool poems

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I composed this autobiographical poem to… tell a story — sing a song — remember a photograph from my adventures on my yearly trip to LA ….

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Terrence Sykes was born and raised in the rural coal mining area of southwestern Virginia, and this isolation brought forth the theme of remembrance to his creations, whether real or imagined. Though not traditional in his spiritual path, these traditional threads of his past are woven into his tapestry of writing. Terrence is a GASP — Gay Alcoholic Southern Poet and Italian by rebirth who also does heirloom vegetable research & reintroduced Large Oxheart Cabbage to Jefferson’s Monticello . His poetry- photography-flash fiction have been published in India, Scotland, Spain, and the USA.

AUTHOR PHOTOGRAPH: The author in Santa Monica, California (2013).

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To celebrate the holiday season, we’re offering a free Kindle version of the Silver Birch Press Green Anthology – available Monday, 12/5 through Friday, 12/9/16 at Amazon.com. (If you don’t have a Kindle device, you can still read the book — with free reading apps, available at this link.) If you are in the UK, try Amazon.co.uk. The free offer also appears on all the international Amazon sites.

Featuring the work of 72 writers from the U.S., U.K., Canada, Europe, and Africa, the Silver Birch Press Green Anthology includes poetry, short stories, novel excerpts, an author interview, memoirs, and poetic essays that touch on the theme of green in creative, fresh, and compelling ways.

We would appreciate any reblogs, tweets, emails, and facebook posts about this Kindle giveaway!

Happy Holidays!

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An Old Rain Hat
by Casey Derengowski

The weather was blustery, the night air was cold
a steady downpour drenched all about
when out of the mist came a simple plea
“Sir, could you spare a quarter for me?”

His request was so simple, his words sincere
a paltry coin to quench a need
some broth for his stomach with warmth for the soul
a cup of hot coffee, some soup in a bowl.

His name was Gary, his clothing quite worn
his shoddy shirt drank the rain like a sponge.
What turn of events, what cosmic force
brought us to this place, both on this course

Rain fell on his head wetting his hair
it ran down his neck and on to his back.
I shivered to see its chilling effect;
I had little choice, I could not reject.

Why must he bear the brunt of the storm
while I am spared a common fate?
I gave him my hat, so wrinkled with years
to rescue his face from these heavenly tears.

That weathered hat he placed on his head
as if it were a priceless chapeau.
He made some protest but my insistence was strong
Had I not done this it would have been wrong.

PHOTO: The author in his rain hat.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My wife and I, along with three of our grandchildren, were entering a restaurant on a rainy day when a homeless man approached asking for some assistance.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Casey Derengowski has been writing for numerous years, professionally as a teacher, later as a probation officer, and personally as a self-imposed hobby. Although his writing began as narrative it has since evolved into the genre of poetry, both free verse and rhyming. He has been published in Summation, Chicago Poetry Press, and Silver Birch Press as well as various other anthologies.

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I didn’t blame the hat
by Lin Whitehouse

An interview invitation in response to
my letter was the prompt to
purchase a hat, even though they don’t
suit me, and I haven’t worn one since.

Summer work experience, assisting the
window dressers in a high class Regent Street
fashion shop, had made the decision a
Careers Advisor did not offer. The workshop,
in a side street, was where the backdrops
were made, scenes painted and mannequins
stored. Creating the shopper’s dream was
what I enjoyed most.

I posed often for tourist’s photos,
half a naked fiberglass torso tucked under my
arm, or other sundries in my hands that I had to
take to the shop through the staff and trades
entrance, never the front door.
Sometimes I wore the wigs rather than carry
them, the synthetic hair always kept its style.

Aiming high, I’d typed my letter, the golf-ball
rotated with each key depression, leaving an
inked impression on the Conqueror prestige
paper. A signature I wasn’t used to signing was
added with a flourish, and a first class stamp
stuck on the envelope addressed to:
The Personnel Officer, Harrods, Knightsbridge.

My mother accompanied me. It was my first
interview. The train rattled and shrugged
us to London, shaking nerves into a squirming
snake-like pit in my stomach. My dusky pink
wool coat with Mandarin collar almost
matched the felt hat with ribbon trim.
Under the six inch brim I resembled Marlene Dietrich,
or so I fancied, and neither hat nor coat were
removed for the interview
on an upper floor of the store,
conducted by a semi-wizened man
in a dark suit, starched white shirt and tie.
I felt like a Caribbean cocktail against the
sobriety of his suit: a Flamboyant
tree to his charcoal stick.

Questions were asked and answered and my
Mother’s head nodded as if on a spring. It went well,
so it seemed, the man smiled frequently until,
rather pompously, he announced:
Harrods don’t employ women in their windows.

A letter would have sufficed and no
offer to reimburse expenses was made.
They wouldn’t get away with it now.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Hat like the one I didn’t blame.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I will never forget that interview. I thought I had done so well only to have my hopes of a career as a window dresser dashed by that single phrase. I could have gone elsewhere but decided to take a completely different route.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lin Whitehouse writes as often as life allows, juggling a day job working for a children’s charity, looking after her family, and networking. Published twice in Silver Birch Press anthologies, her poems have also appeared in Turbulence and Writers News.

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Each year, small presses may nominate up to six pieces they’ve published during the previous 12 months for the Pushcart Prize — a literary award and annual anthology initiated in 1976 by ex-Doubleday editor Bill Henderson to honor “the best of the small presses.” Our 2016 nominations include poetry by two authors whose collections we’ve published in 2016, a short story from a collection released this year, as well as three poems that originally appeared on the Silver Birch Press blog. Congratulations and good luck to all nominees.

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Jennifer Finstrom is an instructor in the First-Year Writing Program at DePaul University and also a peer writing tutor and writing group leader for the University Center for Writing-based Learning (UCWbL). She is the poetry editor of Eclectica Magazine, and recent publications include Autumn Sky Poetry DailyEscape Into Life, and NEAT. For Silver Birch Press, she has work appearing in The Great Gatsby Anthology, the Alice in Wonderland Anthology, the Nancy Drew Anthology, and in Ides: A Collection of Poetry Chapbooks. Editor’s note: Jennifer Finstrom’s poem “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life” appeared on our blog in January as part of our “Me, in Fiction” Poetry & Prose Series (January 2016). The poem generated so many comments from Nancy Drew aficionados that it led to a call for submissions, which resulted in the Nancy Drew Anthology — a 212-page collection featuring writing & art from 97 contributors around the world (Silver Birch Press, October 2016).

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Sonja Johanson has recent work appearing in BOAAT, Epiphany, and The Writer’s Almanac.  She is a contributing editor at the Found Poetry Review, and the author of Impossible Dovetail (IDES, Silver Birch Press), all those ragged scars (Choose the Sword Press), and Trees in Our Dooryards (Redbird Chapbooks).  Sonja divides her time between work in Massachusetts and her home in the mountains of western Maine. Editor’s note: Sonja Johanson’s poem “Night Before Moving Out” appeared on our blog in August as part of our “When I Moved” Poetry & Prose Series (August-September 2016).

alan-kingAlan King is a Caribbean American, whose parents emigrated from Trinidad and Tobago to the U.S. in the 1970s. He’s a husband, father, and communications professional who blogs about art and social issues at alanwking.com. A Cave Canem graduate fellow, he holds a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the Stonecoast Program at the University of Southern Maine. He’s a three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and was also nominated three times for a Best of the Net selection. He lives with his family in Bowie, Maryland. (Photo by Melanie Henderson.) Editor’s note: In October, Silver Birch Press published Alan King’s book, Point Blank, and from the 102-page collection nominated his poem “Slippery.”

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Patrick T. Reardon is a Chicagoan, born and bred. He is the author of seven books, including Faith Stripped to Its Essence: A Discordant Pilgrimage through Shusaku Endo’s ‘Silence.’ His collection of poems Requiem for David will be published by Silver Birch Press in February 2017. Reardon worked for 32 years as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, specializing in urban affairs, and is now writing a book about the untold story of the impact of the elevated railroad Loop on the stability and development of Chicago. His essays have appeared frequently in American and European publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, National Catholic Reporter, Illinois Heritage, Reality, and U.S. Catholic. His book reviews have twice won the Peter Lisagor Award for arts criticism. He has lectured on Chicago history at the Chicago History Museum. (Author photo by Michael Zajakowski.) Editor’s note: Patrick T. Reardon’s poem “At the door,” featured on our blog in May during our “Starting to Ride” Poetry & Prose Series (May-June 2016), will appear in his upcoming collection, Requiem for David (Silver Birch Press, February 2017).

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Sam Silvas received his MFA from
St. Mary’s College, and lives in Claremont, California, with his family. In life and in writing, he strives to be deceptively honest. Editor’s note: In November, Silver Birch Press published Sam Silvas’ book Stanton, California, and from the 176-page collection nominated his short story “Buck Stew.”

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Kathleen A. Wakefield’s book Notations on the Visible World (2000) won the 1999 Anhinga Prize for Poetry and was a recipient of the University of Rochester Lillian Fairchild Award. She has received grants from the New York State Foundation for the Arts, the Constance Saltonstall Foundation, and Mount Holyoke College. She taught creative writing at the Eastman School of Music and the University of Rochester and has worked as a poet-in-the-schools. (Photo by Steven Spring.) Editor’s note: In August, Silver Birch Press published Kathleen A. Wakefield’s book Grip, Give and Sway, and from the 104-page collection nominated her poem “Father to Son.”

kannemeyer
The Hat of Many Colors
by Derek Kannemeyer

Or the other hat, the Hat of Many Colors,
because of all my hats ever it’s my favorite,
and why I think of it fourth when I hear hat
after the school cap Paul Smith liked to snatch
from me, and toss into a tree—after the flat cap
I topped my afro with in college, nesting it high
in my tree of hair because this time it was my idea—
after the Dada hat, just a battered top hat, really,
but in grad school I conducted a Dada play in it—
well, I can’t imagine. Because of all my hats ever,
even the other hats you’ve made me, it’s my favorite.
But an afterthought, now, because there’s no story to it?
Since it’s only another hat you’ve knit to say you love me?
In its colors of ice cream and of carnival, its cherry red
ribbings and checkerboards, from the lilac fringe of it
to its rose gold sunburst crown. It’s like one of those
goofball jigs we’ll dance when, for once, our world
goes right, and we’re home where we should be,
in this privacy of our four arms—that’s all—
hearts flowering, or hatching, or what
have you, in a tangle of April leaves,
in a skein of wild, ordinary sky.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: In my hat, in my old classroom, St. Catherine’s School, (Richmond, Virginia, 2013)

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: As an actor, I was once proclaimed the biggest ham in the cast, the trophy being a yellow rain hat; as a school group chaperone, I was hooted at by some random Parisians as the leader of “Le Bonnet Club” (we’d all just bought berets); each Christmas, I wear a hat in the shape of a spruce tree hung with lights and Christmas presents. The cowboy outfit, the zip trek helmet, the Martiniquais straw hat—when, in fact, aren’t I in a hat? Most of them with some cool story. But much as I love to tell stories, this was clearly the hat. I hope that the poem and photo say why.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Derek Kannemeyer lives and teaches in Richmond, Virginia. His work has appeared in a wide range of online and print publications, including other series from Silver Birch Press.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: In yet another of Sally’s hats (Winter 2016).

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Ear-Flap Hat
by Leah Mueller

I wore a pink wool ear-flap hat
on a visit back to the Northwest
after four years in the Chicago suburbs.
No one in Illinois liked Peruvian headgear,
though temperatures were frigid in the winter-
my hair froze into icicles
when I stepped outside after a shower.

My rebound to the land of my birth
hadn’t gone well. Midlife returned me
to flat brown cornfields and brick six-flats.

I figured I’d save money,
and live again among people
who spoke their minds: not the
Northwest tribe of passive-aggressive
ghosts, people who complained because
they thought I was loud, and talked too much.

In Illinois, I stayed up late,
drank beer, spent hours debating in hot
apartments, while friends told me
“We don’t do that here” and
“You’re not on the west coast
any more.” I dreamed of Mount
Rainier, and evergreens,

and the Washington coastline
with its severe rows of sagebrush,
damp bristles thrashing
as rain squalls blew across the ocean.

I bought a plane ticket to Portland,
drove over mountain passes coated
with unsalted ice, soaked naked in hot springs,
wearing only my ear-flap hat.
Around me, people with beatific faces
slowly lowered their bodies
into the steaming water.

Drove north to Olympia:
drank espresso downtown
while surrounded by hippies of
various ages: Evergreen students
and townies, all of them clad
in wool and fleece, proudly
sporting ear-flap hats.
I had found my tribe again
after years of fruitless wandering.

In Olympia, I picked up a friend
and a sack of marijuana cookies.
We drove to the coast, and I
danced like a child in the foam,
wearing my ear-flap hat,
while pellets of snow rained down from the sky.

I felt sure I was home at last
and would return to live there forever,
as soon as I could get my ass out of Illinois.

In the morning, at the hotel restaurant,
my husband phoned, and I spoke to him
enthusiastically about my adventure.
A man at the next table
told me to keep my voice down,
because he was trying to enjoy
a quiet breakfast with his family.
We were the only people there,
so he struck me as bizarre.
I had some re-acclimating to do.

I was face to face with
the troll at the gate, but nothing
would stop me from returning-
so return I did, a few months later:
with my ear-flap hat,
perched on top of my head
like a flag of victory.

PHOTO: Author at Ocean Shores, Washington (February 2011).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this poem about my experience of visiting the Pacific Northwest in February 2011, after four years living in the Midwest, land of my birth. I’d previously resided in both Washington and Oregon from 1985 until 2007, then left the area on a whim and returned to my roots. In 2011, I realized the Midwest represented my roots, but the Northwest was my branches. I still feel that way.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Leah Mueller is an independent writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of one chapbook, Queen of Dorksville(Crisis Chronicles Press, 2012), and two full-length books, Allergic to Everything (Writing Knights Press, 2015) and The Underside of the Snake (Red Ferret Press, 2015). Her work has either been published or is forthcoming in Blunderbuss, Memoryhouse, Atticus Review, Thank You For Swallowing, Sadie Girl Press, Origins Journal, Silver Birch Press, Cultured Vultures, Quail Bell, and many others. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest.

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We asked the 97 contributors to the Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch Press, October 2016) to send photos featuring the book in their home environments. Author Michelle McMillan-Holifield provided this portrait of herself and the collection in front of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Michelle contributed the prose poem “Quest of the Missing _______” (featured below)  to the 212-page anthology.

Quest of the Missing _____
by Michelle McMillan-Holifield

Nancy Drew #19 Quest of the Missing Map: First “adult” book I read completely by myself cover to cover, no help. Third grade. As I turned that last page, a sensation overcame me that I could not put into words at the time, but what I now recognize as satiety, accomplishment. I swung my pajamaed legs over the side of my bed and, book in hand, one eye lingering on those last few words, skipped through the house. Quest: my mother’s approval. I proclaimed my emphatic Guess what? and pirouetted, pliéd, as I leapt into her lap. She knew my success. My intellect never a mystery to this woman.
*****
My mother read the first 18 Nancy Drews aloud to me. Her devotion stirs me. Makes me wish I could have children so I could devote my nights to reading aloud to them a few chapters a night, while their sweaty little heads rest on my shoulder. Embolden their sense of adventure. Look up words we don’t recognize. Do all women want children this badly or is it just the women who can’t have them? In all my medical records, the reason for my infertility eludes me.
*****
There are no answers, Nancy. Not to this mystery. My body has been examined. The microscope, the magnifying glass, all manner of invasive instruments—they’ve all been sleuths on the case. And I wish I could call you in, turn the case over to you, present you with the evidence: ultrasounds highlighting oddities in my ovaries, calendars where I’ve mapped out my cycles and counted the days from one set of pills to the next, the + or – tests. All. Failed. You work out the symbols in my mysterious ultrasonic photographs, and I’ll nurse the fractures webbing inside my heart.
*****
In sixth grade, my mother would not let me spend the night with a friend, so while she chatted with my friend’s mother, I slammed my elbow through her truck window. This was an accident on purpose. What I mean is I purposely elbowed the window, but I had no clue it was weak enough to shatter at my rage. I thought: I’m jinxed. I’m caught. I lied, cried, told my mother I slammed the door too hard. Never mind the large hole surrounded by a web of hairline fractures. Never mind the trail of blood down my arm that started at my elbow. My mother: on the case. I was questioned. I lied and lied then later signed my confession in a letter I left on the table as she slept. My savings account was confiscated. All one hundred and twenty three dollars.
*****
Is it a sin I have not confessed? Has the blessing of children been confiscated? Did I curse myself somehow? I confess that in my twenties I claimed I did not want children. And I have confessed that confession before God, aloud, and begged forgiveness. I am an only child, my mother’s one chance to have grandchildren; I carry my guilt like a too-heavy purse I can’t seem to put down. That yoke (I put it on myself) is burdensome. I confess I am not as good a sleuth as my mother: I haven’t been able to glean from the nuance of her voice how she feels to have a daughter who is less. Childless, less than a woman. An unsuccess.
*****
Nancy, you are motherless. Does it feel the same as this: broken, fractured, jinxed? You are missing a mother; I’m missing a child. Did you leave clues in a secret diary? Did you confess you missed what was missing so much you splayed your body face down on the bed and let your screams soak the sheets? I confess I miss curling up in my mother’s lap, laying my sweaty head on her shoulder as she read and read until all the mysteries were solved. Quest: questions answered. Quest: to conceive a child would be as simple as conceiving of a child. Quest: to be less childless.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Here I am  in front of the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I’m the only author from Mississippi featured in the Nancy Drew Anthology, so I tried to capture a place that speaks of the state’s creative history. The Blues is an integral part of Mississippi and American musical history and Ground Zero Blues Club is owned in part by Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Michelle McMillan-Holifield studied poetry at Delta State University in the Mississippi Delta. Her work has been included in or is forthcoming in Boxcar Poetry Review, First Class Lit, The Found Poetry Review, poemmemoirstory, A Quiet Courage, Red Savina Review, Vine Leaves, and Windhover, among others. She is an MFA Candidate at the University of Arkansas/Monticello.

Find the Nancy Drew Anthology at Amazon.com.

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My Daughter’s Hat
by MM Wittle

I stole my daughter’s hat while we were drinking hot chocolate at Max Brenner’s.

It was a big, floppy hat in black felt she purchased from Target two nights before. She said she needed the hat because it made her feel more glamorous and cheeky. I suspected she needed the hat to be a barrier between her and the wedding guests she wasn’t interested in making small talk with.

But then, while we were together, she wore the hat. We walked around Center City, Philadelphia and sat in Washington Square Park discussing her recent break-up and my tiptoeing back into the dating pool. We talked about books and shared memories from years ago and I realized our ages are different, but our paths are running the same course. Sadly, my history was not skipping her generation.

After our dinner, I took my moment and I stole her hat. I was hoping osmosis would deliver me some of her protection or her sass because I knew this new chapter of my life was unwritten for both of us.

All I got was a picture of me in my daughter’s hat.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me in my daughter’s hat (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Summer 2016).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MM Wittle is a literary coach for writing and a writing professor. her fiction has appeared in Transient, The Four Quarters, The Fox Chase Review, and others, and her poetry has appeared in The Bond Street Review and Philadelphia Poets and the Decades Review’s IX issue. Her creative nonfiction piece, Presently in the Past, is in Volume 20 of Thin Air Literary Magazine. Her creative nonfiction book Three Decades and I’m Gone (Creeping Lotus Press, 2014) details her struggle with learning to live with the death of both her parents.