Adventures in Writing
Part 2
Staff Favorites in the
2022 Contest


During the past few years, we've been challenged in ways we never anticipated. Yet resilient North Carolina women have adapted with aplomb. This was apparent in the submissions that gifted individuals made to the 2022 Carolina Woman Writing Contest. Talent abounds in our region as you can see from the Staff Favorites shared below. Enjoy!

– Debra Simon, Editor & Publisher



"Return to Southern Appalachia"


poem by Molly Hanna of Boone

I went to the mountains
    my mountains
hoping to return to
the warm embrace of clover and moss lawns
contorted to the arch of my spine
    only to find bare dirt (formerly soil)
    bleached by the sun.

I sought sertraline in the splash of scarlet sunsets
    scoring the sky just before dusk,
out of reach behind the stratus clouds,

craved the bright green of a canopy above me,
filtering soft sunlight onto my skin
    but found shadows in the undergrowth,
    chestnuts long gone,
    only dark clouds
    above the tangles of rhododendrons

that should have been in bloom this time of year
    but already drop wrinkled brown petals to the path
    of damp pine needles that soften my footsteps.

I wish each step would echo off of the eroding sandstone
    drumbeats harmonizing with scrambling deer
but the mountain is not herself:
    doesn't recognize the strange weather patterns,
    aches for cool afternoon showers
        that used to arrive like clockwork,
    misses the hemlocks that once stood
        where there is now a bald
    long eroded by the wind
        after beetles invaded the teal wood
    loathes the leaves of strange plants
        forgotten and festering.





"Sign Language"


nonfiction by Anne Kissel of Pittsboro

My father, while he was living, had little small talk, no idle chat. His verbal parsimony was legacy of a country childhood, of tall men who kept quiet. Self-contained, his actions spoke, though they were measured too. But we had our communication, he and I, if not frequent conversations. Daddy’s girls always do.


My father, while he was dying, still had little to say. No final words, no regrets or repents. He took off his glasses, laid aside his hearing aides and closed his voice. He communed frequently with companions only he could see and hear. Words flowed from his hands; he became fluent in a new vocabulary of gesture and movement. Symphonies of silent dialogue were conducted. Vast pictures drawn with his still graceful long fingers; he sculpted the air with shimmering messages.


Sometimes he smiled at his visitors, embracing with a nod those waiting in the middle distance. Sometimes he applauded and waved at them, as if arriving in port. Sometimes the eighty-plus years spilled from his eyes, filling the dry river beds, the weathered landscape of his face. Sometimes he still knew me, his hands reaching mine.


My father, while he is gone, telephones in my dreams and we talk and talk.





"Blue Hydrangea"


story by Grace Marcus of Reidsville, N.C.


Squinting her eyes, Delores focuses on the blue hydrangea bush, filling her field of vision with the huge blooms, blotting out the chain-link fence, the cracked sidewalk and the worn brick factory directly across the street. Only the edges of the petals are a faint blue, all the color the impoverished Brooklyn soil could muster. She sniffs the spring air for green shoots.


Three spins backward, with her eyes tightly closed, lands her on top of the cement rise of the stoop. She pictures herself draped over the curb, one arm flung behind her head in the gutter, throat slit and rivulets of crimson blood brightening the dreary landscape. Or pearl white, eyebrows and eyelashes icy with frost - statue still - a little girl lawn ornament gracing the patch of dirt called the front.


“You can play in the front, but don’t go outside the gate,” commands her mother from the second-floor window of the three-story house they share with Delores’s grandparents (first floor) and her aunt, uncle and two cousins on the third. Until she starts school in the fall, the only time she gets to go outside the gate is with her mother on errands or to Mass on Sundays. All day long her grandfather stares out the front window, sitting in his favorite chair, resting his bad leg on the matching hassock, smoking cigars and watching her like a guard dog. Of the five children, she’s the only one not content to play in the back.


The back is bigger, a 10 by 20 foot rectangle of cement preceding a larger patch of dirt with a huge mulberry tree in the far right corner. That, and the city utility pole, are the only things to climb or cause your eyes to lift up, up ‘til your head tilts backwards parallel to the ground making you dizzy with the idea of flight.


But the back is always crowded with women in housedresses, marching in and out the kitchen door, hanging the wash, mouths clenched around clothespins like little stogies, taking down the wash, gathering forgotten toys or cranky children.


Delores opens her eyes and scrunches her spine against the rough shingle siding. She glimpses movement to the right of the hydrangea - a stranger on the block. He ambles along the curb, stooping now and then to pick up discarded soda bottles from the gutter. His denim overalls and thermal underwear don’t match his scuffed brown leather dress shoes. The red railroad scarf around his neck and the blue and white Dodgers cap planted on his head of long brown hair intrigue her. She sidles up to the gate.


“Whatcha’ doing, mister?”


“Looking for perfectly good bottles to return to the store for some pocket change,” he pronounces grandly.


She takes in his stained shirt, the puckered hole where a button belongs on his overalls, the shine of sweat on his unwashed hair. “Are you poor?”


He turns to face her, removes his cap. “I suppose I am. Yes.”


The girl rocks back and forth on her heels, trying to balance the feeling of falling, falling faster, plummeting into the world of no back or front but pocket change and chance.


“Wait here!” she calls, spinning around and running into the house.


She dashes through the mud brown hall and up the worn leather treads on the stairs, slowing herself at the top. Quietly, she opens the door to the apartment that wraps U-shaped around the stairwell. The room she shares with her sisters is directly behind her but the door has been sealed up so she has to go from the kitchen through the living room and her parents’ bedroom to get to hers. Kneeling, she pokes under her mattress feeling for the plastic shell of her change purse. Delores takes five of the seven coins at random, feeling a swell of pride bitten by a tiny twinge of loss.


She runs down the stairs and out the door to the gate. The man has moved on down the curb. He’s next door now. Every moment she hesitates he’ll get farther away. She glances behind her and scans the three identical sets of windows.


No one.


With a sharp intake of breath, she’s outside the gate. “Mister, mister!” she calls softly, right behind him.


When he turns around, she grasps his hand and drops the coins into his palm. Cautiously her eyes creep up to his face. His eyes are closed and his lips squeezed together as if he just swallowed something bitter. Pressing his palms together, the man squats down and looks at the girl. His large brown eyes are soft and shiny.


“What is your name, child?”


“I’m Delores,” she whispers.


“Delores,” he repeats in a tone like a priest’s chant during Mass. “Dolorosa. Bless you.”


The clatter of a wooden cane striking the pavement startles them both. Her grandfather, red-faced, jerks down the sidewalk stiff-legged, stiff-jawed.


“You!” he shouts, “Get in the house and stay there. And you. What the hell do you think you’re doing? Get off my block and don’t let me catch you here again or you’ll be sorry, you bum.” He spits on the sidewalk near the stranger’s shoes.


Delores is frozen to the spot, Keds to the pavement, brains to the sky, tongue a lump of rotten meat she wants to vomit. The man slowly rises but stands his ground. The old man hisses at the girl, “I said get back in the house...and I mean now.”


He stabs his cane on the sidewalk close to her feet, herding her back through the gate and slams it closed behind them. As she brushes past the hydrangea, Delores plucks a pale blue petal and places it on her tongue.


Her grandfather holds the front door open “Get inside and help in the kitchen.


Everyone’s working but you, you lazy girl.”


She sleepwalks into the hot, crowded, noisy kitchen and disappears into the steam.