Connie Kallback




| Creative Nonfiction | Fiction | Published Poems | Poems À la carte |



- Creative Nonfiction -



Echo of a Train Whistle

Published in Gravel Literary Journal, University of Arkansas at Monticello, June 2015

Mama bundled my toddler brother and sister, twins, into their footed pajamas while my older brother and I raced to be first to pile into the black 1938 Cadillac LaSalle, my father's pride at finding it for sale, used.

He'd already backed it from the garage and waited behind the house on Carey Avenue, a main north-south thoroughfare through Cheyenne.

From home, my brother and I could reach the center of town in half a dozen blocks. Skaggs Drugs and Montgomery Wards rose from the cement near a movie theater featuring Bomba the Jungle Boy and other Saturday movies for ten cents. A theater employee at the entrance would collect our dimes in an open cigar box before we slipped into the darkness where adventure waited. 

A block from the theater in the downtown area's south side, the Union Pacific Railroad sprawled under the viaduct, close enough for Dad to walk to work most days. A fireman and engineer, he got the call to take the controls on his regular run into Nebraska that evening.

Comfortable behind the LaSalle's wheel, Dad carried us to the railroad's main building laid out like five structures glued together as if the architect didn't know when to stop. Chiseled, rust-colored stone edged the peaks and windows of its textured limestone exterior.

He waited beside the car for Mama to slide sideways into the driver seat before kissing her goodbye. Cocking his hand with two fingers stretched outward in his usual farewell signal, he strode away until a wide, arched entrance under the medieval-looking clock tower swallowed him from view.

My brother claimed the front passenger seat the minute Mama left it. No one argued about the unspoken rule. He was one year and five days older than I. In the back seat, I enjoyed the extra elbow room with the twins and a reprieve from teasing.

Mama drove down East Sixteenth Street, all the way through town until nothing dotted the open spaces except the refinery. She pulled off the highway, tires crunching the dry prairie grass, and parked the car to face the tracks an acre's distance in front of us.

Anticipation of a familiar sound kept us quiet as we waited in the withering light.  Finally a far-off rumble sparked the air. A locomotive, the headlight in the center of its round face cutting a hole in the dusk, roared from the west. Its weight flattened the earth as I felt its heat, or maybe it was the sprinting of my heart that made me feel so warm.

The horn let out a long whooeeoo, vibrating the air. When the engine came in direct line of sight, the whistle blurted out two higher-pitched hoots. A hand waved from the cab's open window. Daddy! Nothing could compete with that moment.

Our dad commanded the massive giant that effortlessly towed boxcar after boxcar I thought I'd be able to count. They clicked the rails like cougar cubs with metal taps on their paws, loping in a blur to keep up behind their mother.   

Steam shot from wheels to form a skirt. Its head billowed a haze to hide the engine and send a tail roiling back over the cars. The entire train passed in a fraction of the time we'd spent waiting.

I watched the light fade into the distance. The whistle sang exhilaration and sadness as Dad and his entourage melted into the night.  



Train Photo Source:








Book Sale

Published in Foliate Oak, October 2013

I love books the way Imelda Marcos loved shoes. That’s why sorting used books for the annual Friends-of-the-Library fundraiser turned out to be a more painful task than I’d imagined.
            Another volunteer and I agreed to toss any copies that were defaced, torn or unreadable for any reason. That worked until I held in my hands Green Grass of Wyoming with lime green crayon scribbles on the first half dozen pages. How could I possibly discard it?  I grew up in Wyoming and went to college in Laramie on the same prairie where Flicka grazed. It joined my personal book pile.
            It wasn’t long before I came across a copy of The Wind in the Willows. My mother read it to my brother and me when we were preschoolers, each sitting on either side of her in the old rocker at bedtime. She would read until we fell asleep, and we’d somehow awake in our beds the next morning. I read it again in my teen years and discovered the vocabulary was far beyond that of early readers. But because the comfortable feeling has stayed with me for life, I had to put it aside as a take-home copy even though I was still in possession of the original one my mother read to us.
            Before I was ready to call it a day, I discovered yet another copy of The Wind in the Willows, but this one was unique. A hard cover with rounded corners on its outer edges. The appeal was too much to resist. But surely I didn’t need two copies of the same book. Instant decision-making isn’t one of my strong points. I knew I would have to take some time before the sale to decide if I should keep it for posterity.
            At home I began reading the books from my personal pile as quickly as I could, knowing the day before the sale would be the absolute deadline. Which ones would I buy to keep for myself?  And maybe the bigger question — where would I put them?  All our bookshelves were occupied to overflowing. I had books stashed under the bed, in boxes in the storeroom and atop the refrigerator, all waiting for who knows how long, to be read.
            The books I’d just brought home needed to be in the sale, though. That’s what it was about. Selling. Raising money. With that noble motive, I returned the book with rounded corners to a sale box, but not without a pang of deep sadness.
            Another sorting session brought the most marvelous find: The complete six-volume set of Winston Churchill’s The Second World War. It filled an entire box. A wonderful asset in anyone’s book collection, mine in particular.
            On the day of the sale, my 11-year-old son Allan came along to help in our booth at the open-air, community flea market with the agreement that he could spend time exploring other booths when he got bored.
            As I arranged everything for the sale, I somehow couldn’t find the right spot to display the Churchill set. It took up too much room on any of the tables. 
            Less than an hour after the flea market officially opened, a young man approached. “Is that for sale?” He poked his foot in the direction of a lonely box nestled in the grass under the table. 
            “The Churchill?”
            He nodded.
            After some hesitation, I said, “I, uh, guess it is.” My eyes misted over a bit.
            He was immediately apologetic. “I don’t have to buy it.” He hesitated, then added, “If you’re saving it….”
            “Oh, no,” I insisted. “Of course it’s for sale.” I forced a smile and busied myself opening my change pouch. 
            I sealed in memory my last sight of the box, supported by one upraised arm curled over it as it proudly rode away on the young man’s shoulder.
            Allan hitched a ride home after lunch with another volunteer, but I stayed until closing. Our sale was a success, earning over $400 for the library. Exhausted, but happy, I picked up a fast-food meal for my family on the way home.
            After relaxing for a moment with a cup of tea, I headed down the hallway. A stack of books on Allan’s desk caught my eye. The Wind in the Willows with curved, instead of square, corners boasted its place on top. I blinked. For a moment I thought I was back at the flea market. “Where did this come from?”
            He seemed surprised. “I bought it at the book sale. Don't you love those rounded corners?”




- Fiction -



The ADHD Chronicles: Smoke Signals

Published in Foliate Oak, October 2013

        I'll never forget the year I was ten when I was grounded to the yard all summer for nearly setting the house on fire.  I know my parents thought I was pretty weird, but I really didn't do it on purpose.
            I'd just gotten my allowance and bought a whole bag of candy that I traded for Ethan's cigarette lighter. A real nice one. He probably swiped it from his father, but I didn't care. Nobody at my house smoked, so I didn't have much chance of getting one unless I ripped it off from the drug store, and with my luck, I'd get caught.
            It was definitely the best possession of my life, at least up to that point. I saw right away it wasn’t any run-of-the-mill variety. Smooth stainless steel with a blue and red figure barely visible on the bottom right corner. I didn’t recognize the symbol, but it definitely looked important. The neatest part was it felt really good in my hand. Just the perfect fit. I couldn't believe my luck.
            I slid it quick into my pocket so nobody else could claim it like my sister Veronica, three years older than me. She knows a good thing when she sees it. Sure, she’d pretend she was protecting her little brother, but I knew she’d want it for herself.
            If Veronica hadn’t glommed it, my cousin Wilson would have for sure. His dad and mine are brothers. Their house is barely three blocks from ours, but his parents were never home during the day. Someone was always at our house because my dad worked in an office upstairs, but he didn’t like to be interrupted. My parents told Wilson he could stay at our place every day so he wouldn’t be lonely, but I think he was really there to spy on me. Sure. Like I needed a babysitter
            Once home, I slipped through the kitchen and disappeared to my room in the basement so I could get acquainted with my new prize. I figured there have to be lots of things you can do with a lighter besides light up a smoke. Besides, I didn’t have any cigarettes. And truth is I’d never ever had one, but if someone offered, I probably would have accepted. After all, you don’t turn down new opportunities when they come along.
            It must have had plenty of lighter fluid in it because every time I’d spin that little wheel, it would spark and instantly bring forth a flame. In one second, I could create fire on demand. I flipped it on and off, on and off, feeling more powerful every time. I started waving it around with the lid open and the flame burning to create patterns in the middle of my bedroom. Then I tried to make shapes that might show up like shadows on the wall, but that didn’t quite work out. Instead, I started swinging my arms in the middle of the room like those torch bearers in the circus that toss burning sticks around like batons.
            When that got boring, I sat down on the floor to see if I could burn some tiny scraps of paper. The first one was so small, you could barely see it. A little whoosh came when the flame hit. If I’d blinked, I would have missed it entirely. It changed immediately to a glow as small as an ant and left some wispy gray scrap that I rubbed into the rug until it disappeared. 
            That's when I saw the hole, smaller than my pinky, in the side of the mattress where the other half of the handle used to be before I ripped it out by mistake trying to discover what held it in place. With a flick of  the wheel, I held the flame up near the hole to see if there was anything creepy inside, but the lighter wasn’t nearly as good as a flashlight.
            There had to be something else I could do with it. So I scanned the rest of the room for any other opportunities I’d missed. When my eyes came around to the bed again, I noticed these slight wisps of smoke rising from the mattress. It wasn’t really burning, but in a stroke of genius, I thought I should treat it the same as fire.
            A pair of my best corduroys was crumpled on the floor. Smother the smoke. That’s all I could think. They’d drummed that into us at school since kindergarten. When no air gets to the fire, it’ll die. I slapped my cords down on top of where the wisps seemed to be coming from, close to the edge of the bed. That seemed to calm things down. So I got some decent advice about at least one thing at school.
            I thought it best to hide the lighter in my underwear drawer for another day. When I turned around, though, smoke was coiling up worse than ever, and black-edged holes were burning through the legs of my cords.
            Wilson, who's always butting into everyone else's business, came in and whipped the blanket up fast and got a face full. He must have thought he was getting vaporized or something, so he ran back and grabbed the fire extinguisher at the bottom of the stairs. The way he aimed the tank at the mattress and emptied tons of foam all over the place, you’d think he had firefighter training
            All I remember was him saying, “Idiot!” 
            It wasn’t exactly the best time to say anything back. Besides, he’s nearly four years older than me. And at least 30 pounds heavier. Maybe more.
            Then he ran up the stairs. I heard later that he found my dad and said, “Uncle Stanley, I hate to bother you, but we have a problem in the basement.”
            Between the smoke and the foam, that was the end of all my stuffed animals.  'Course I'd just been keeping them around for old times' sake anyway.
            Wilson and my dad took the scorched mattress and box spring up the basement stairs to the back yard and hosed them down, full force, for what seemed like maybe an hour. They left them totally sopping on the concrete patio.
            I was trying to figure out how many days they’d take to dry, but somehow I couldn’t imagine sleeping on them again anyway. They were pretty sad looking. 
            My sleeping bag on the floor became my sleeping arrangement that night. I don’t remember anyone offering me another choice.
            The only good thing was that my mother was away on a business trip for a few days. Maybe we could get everything cleaned up before she got back.
            Were we ever surprised the next morning when nothing was left on the patio except the metal frame. And I mean nothing. It was like locusts came and picked everything clean.
            I don’t think I’ve ever seen my dad so mad. He grounded me for the whole entire summer, and school wasn't even out yet. I had to pretend I was camping out in that sleeping bag on the floor for a long time before he got me a new mattress. I wonder if a court of law would call that child abuse? I should see what I can find on the Web.





A Smile for the Fry Cook

by Connie Kallback


Breakfast customers would soon arrive to order eggs sunny side up or over easy with ham or sausage. Sherman had a long-standing special on those items. He didn't mind the breakfast crowd because it meant mostly fast frying on the grill, and Mae, an efficient waitress, knew automatically what to do. An easy banter during the morning rush kept them working smoothly together.
            A lilting voice at the counter urged him to hobble out to see who Mae might be setting up to coffee. Lucille, the attractive middle-age woman who sold cosmetics at the drug store two blocks down, stirred in cream until the brew took on a caramel color. Sherman had never seen her in the diner until today. He wiped his hands on his apron. "Morning, M'am."
            She looked up and gave him a genuine smile. "Hello."
            He wanted to stay longer gazing at her, but since he had nothing to say and didn't want to make her uncomfortable, he disappeared into the kitchen again where he puttered around, listening to the women talking.
            "You like working here, Mae?"
            "Oh sure. Been her for so many years now. Don't think I'd know how to do anything else."
            "You get tips, too?"
            "Yeah. Nothing earth shaking, you know. Enough to keep me going.  Don't you like it in cosmetics?"
            "It's o.k.  Can be slow. If tips were part it, I'd be dragging in quite a bit more. That'd be nice."
            Sherman remembered Lucille's smile after she left. It didn't have a trace of disgust or pity like the gawking from people passing in the street when they saw his bent, shriveled leg and the hump emphasizing his right shoulder. His left shoulder sloped downward, giving him a lopsided profile. It seemed as if she truly hadn't noticed. People said he had a handsome enough face, even though he wasn't as young as he used to be.
            "Hey, Sherm! Where's that special?" Emmett, the guy who drove Hollander's wholesale produce truck, usually shared a bit of light humor with his breakfast.
            "I've got that special, all right. It's been sittin' here half an hour waitin' for you. Hope you like your eggs cold."
            "The only way to eat 'em."
            They exchanged a high sign, unique to the two of them.
            Sherman hiked himself onto a tall stool on the serving side of the counter to keep company with the only remaining customer. He had heard Mae more than once tell people she thought Sherman slept standing up because he seemed to be always on his feet. He knew she said it to make people think of him as constantly active. In truth, he needed this stool at the counter and another by the grill.
            Between mouthfuls, Emmett said, "I saw that gal, Lucille, leaving your place when I stopped at the light earlier. Usually don't see her here." He took a swig of coffee. "Couldn't believe the heavy make-up she was wearing."         
            Sherman's smile drooped. "She didn't have too much make-up."
            Sure as shootin' she did. What's the matter? You gone blind?"
            "I saw her up close. Didn't look so bad to me."      
            "Well if you aren't blind then, you must be in love with her."  He bellowed and slapped the counter.
            "I don't have time to fool around. Gotta cut vegetables for the soup."        
            Emmett blinked at the retreating, misshapen form. "Mae, what's eating him today? Don't know when I've see him like that. He's usually so cheerful."
            She shrugged. "Seemed fine this morning."


Mae waited on newcomers while Sherman tended the grill, thinking about the women's  conversation at the counter. How would Lucille like to work in the diner? He could offer her more money than the drug store, and she could get tips, too, especially if he let her wait on the booths. Of course, Mae might not be too happy about that. It seemed to him she had been a bit lax here lately, though. Keep her on her toes by giving her some competition. If she didn't like it, maybe she'd take the hint and quit.
            He glanced around at the diner's obviously less modern interior than the drug store. His father bought the refurbished railroad car before the war and negotiated a deal on a small lot, deeper than it was wide, in the center of town. The lot's small frontage required positioning the dining car at an angle, the only way to accommodate it. One corner jutted out nearly to the edge of the sidewalk. His father thought the arrangement kept it from appearing ordinary. Maybe even a little artistic. In summer, petunias, pansies or other annuals bloomed in a couple of gigantic clay flower pots to help fill in the empty triangle. A wooden turkey replaced them in November, and a Christmas tree in December.
            Sherman had been fascinated as a little kid to think his parents spent their days working in a genuine rail car. In those years he played in the three-sided yard in the back and pretended to be the engineer driving the train. In his mind the waitress brought meals to sustain him as he roared through town after town, tooting the horn and waving wildly at passers-by.
            Most of the time, the waitress took the form of his mother - a frail, sad woman who let her thin brown hair hang down beside bangs cut straight across her forehead. She died from a ruptured appendix after his thirteenth birthday. During a good part of those years, she dragged him from one doctor to another to see what they could do about his leg and shoulder. His father had a different solution. He said Sherman should accept his physical appearance by practicing to be stronger and smarter than other people.
            In high school, Sherman started pulling regular shifts at the diner while the boys who had just graduated went overseas to fight. His handicap kept him at home where he eventually learned about the diner's finances and the buying of food and supplies.
            His father retired ten years ago. Four months later, he died in his sleep. A heart attack, they said.
            The modernizing of the diner, a constant argument between the parents, never happened the way his father had imagined. All those doctors charged a lot of money and were never able to do anything anyway. Why not fix up the diner to attract more business? After his wife's death he couldn't bear the thought of changing it in any way because she might not have approved.
            Stores on both sides had crowded so close, the diner seemed hardly visible anymore. Sherman, answering only to himself, contracted for a triangular extension to bring the front parallel to the sidewalk. New aluminum siding gave the entire facade a sleeker look. His only extravagance came in the form of neon lights buzzing out, "Yorkville Diner." A mortgage he'd taken on his parents' house for the construction didn't provide enough funds to further update the inside.
            He scrutinized the remaining evidence of its 1950s vintage. The walls covered in a linoleum type of material had become cracked and old. Long ago he had attached strips of contact wallpaper in a few places. Now it, too, pulled at the edges. He could put up new himself or check at the hardware store to see if paint or another type of wall covering would work. The big round Deco-type mirror, the only embellishment, peered out on diners from the far end.
            The tables, new during the construction, still boosted his pride. The floor remained in decent shape. Nothing that a good polishing couldn't fix. He took a dry mop from around the corner and swirled it down the aisle and under the tables. "You know, this place hasn't had a good cleaning in a long time."
            Mae raised her eyebrows.
            "See if you can shine up that mirror while nobody's here, will you, Mae?  And the counter top. We've gotta bring back the old gleam."
            "Okay. Whatever you want. You're the boss." Opening the cleaning cupboard, she said, "You sure you didn't fall on your head?"
            "Have your laugh if you want. Nobody's gonna recognize this place after we're done. It'll sparkle."


    Sherman hardly slept that night for thinking of Lucille. He had to be casual about approaching her. People might think it strange if he joined her for coffee in one of the booths. He sat in a booth rarely and always alone.
            If Lucille didn't come back into the diner the next day, he'd give her a week and then go down to the drugstore to see her. He didn't want to seem obvious about anything, especially to Mae.
            He spent a little extra time the next morning getting ready for work and used the special after-shave lotion Mae had given him for Christmas. He didn't worry that she might wonder why he decided to wear it now.
            Lucille didn't show. Sherman went home feeling depressed.
            The next day before most of the breakfast regulars showed up, he heard her voice.
             "You're here again, huh?" Mae said, surprise edging her voice. "Must have been some good cup of coffee I made you the other day."
            Sherman wanted to step into the serving area right away but needed a task to get Mae away from there. An errand to the post office would do it. He listened a moment longer.
            "Not the best cup of coffee I ever had . . ." Lucille's voice became soft and giggly.
            A good sign. She hadn't come there just for the coffee. In a matter of seconds he practiced his speech to her and felt strangely in control.
            A loud laugh snorted from the counter.
            He paused at the doorway in time to see Mae trying to shush the other woman.           
            "And the hump! I had to come back again to see if it's for real."
            Laughter slipped from Mae before she could control herself. "He's a prince of a guy when you get to know him."
            Sherman slowly inched his way back into the kitchen's privacy. You need to accept yourself the way you are. A reminder from his father. When a boy laughed at him, his father said, Give it to him, Sherm. You're tougher than he is.
            If Lucille were a man, he'd give her such a shot . . . .  But she wasn't a man. His father never taught him how to handle these situations.
            The cash register rang open. He stepped to the doorway and said in the coolest voice he could manage, "Mae, tell her the coffee's on me."

The End

Ten Short Stories / by Nine Authors
edited by Edward Grosek
2016 Edward Grosek





- Published Poems -




Children ran carefree through parched fields
until an open pipe lurking under pale weeds
swallowed her tiny body. In one step 
earth claimed its ransom. 

On flattened bellies they clutched the edge
demanding her return, but dark yielded no answer.
Rescuers drilled like moles downward bit by bit
only to return alone.

Just able to read, I deciphered news,
side column drawings, hoping, waiting
while the tube kept its secret quiet but for early
muffled sounds, then nothing. 

From a back window on family car trips
I’d search cumulous patterns for a sign and see her 
skimming the prairie grass like a fawn,
happy in the discovery of her sturdy legs,
with the next step plunging, watching
her brief life turn in the kaleidoscopic pipe
until she lands in a cloud’s embrace and stays
rocking, rocking.

The Rockford Review, Winter-Spring 2015, Volume XXXIV, Number 1



Map Reading

Highways wriggle across paper 
like red worms on walkways after rain. 
They tangle, unravel as you try to trace
the meandering path like a swale
in rain-battered soil. You detour, 
then stand before a foreign door,
wiping your feet on the mat to avoid
strewing one county's mud on another
before beginning your journey anew. 
Maybe it's time to try another tool—
periscope, telescope, a kaleidoscope
will do as well, fitting the chips of color
into angles of green and blue to dispel
confusion. Make sure you don't choose 
from the witch mother’s basket a gift
laced with poison to jaundice your eyes 
and keep you from seeing rivers nearby
where you can ditch the map and float. 

The Rockford Review, Winter-Spring 2015, Volume XXXIV, Number 1



Escape of the Oak

See how peeled-away bark flaps from my trunk
like Ulysses’ ragged pants exposing his scarred thigh?
Hardened warts of lichen mourn their riddled holes,
battle wounds from insects and algae seasons ago.

Look where my trunk branches west into one thick limb,
hacked away like Hermes’ famed sculpture with arm
cut short but still outstretched. Does my appearance
still emulate figures I once admired?

“Dwell among heroes,” father said when the seed fell
centuries ago, as a wish I might attain mythical status,
but I’m sick of Penelope’s weeping and tales of Helen’s beauty
in the acid soil that ceases to nourish me. I seek an exit.

Make my broken arm widen to a wing like Klee's figure
partially equipped to soar. If half-wing strength won't let me rise, 
I’ll hail the boat’s unfurling sail to hold the line.
With borrowed hook, I’ll rip my roots and climb aboard.

The Rockford Review, Winter-Spring 2015, Volume XXXIV, Number 1



Getting Off

Hot water huddles around
the tea bag in my cup
growing darker and stronger.
    Once-warm eggs coagulate
    on a Melmac plate
        while I brush heads of hair
        as they, with sleepy stare,
        munch toast and tie scuffed gym shoes.
The gold of a bus
flashes through trees
at the end of the block -
a warning of the storm
        now gathering momentum
            that whirls up
                 coats, boots, papers, and books,
                     and whisks them out the door.

         Connie Connolly Kallback

the Christian Home



Near the Bowery

A burly man stooped,
Stretched his arm down into a
Wire mesh garbage basket
And drew out two soda cans ¾
One with a straw; the other, empty.
But his next handful brought the prize ¾
A half-eaten apple.
He cradled it in his fist
And swung it back and forth gently
Like a baseball player
Getting the feel of a new ball.
His hand paused several times
At his side, teasing his pocket
Or checking its fit,
Then swung all the way back
To expose his wide girth
Or maybe it was all those
Layered jackets he wore
That made him appear so round.

Connie Connolly Kallback

The Davidson Miscellany
Volume 18, Number 1




- Poems À la carte -



Beyond the wall of cottonwoods,
where stiff-legged hollyhocks stand
like guards protecting a tomb, 
our abandoned playhouse waits,              
soft moths fanning its walls.
We called them “millers” in prairie summers                       
when dust from their wings would cling
to our fingers like powdered sugar.
In a neighbor’s boarded-up shed,           
we slipped like smooth-haired moles
through the trapdoor on the ground,
scraping and sliding on our bellies,
dirt in our mouths, laughing. 
After lighting forbidden candles,
we hid in the loft without breathing
at the click of the lock. 

In winter we skated on frozen puddles 
in the church parking lot up the block         
imagining ourselves Olympic champions.      
In summer we barked actions and placements
of movie directors through newspaper cones. 
What futures we had with such dreams,    
but tomorrows lose their way
in the labyrinth of time.

Summers of decades have passed
since you found me a seat on the train
and returned up the aisle alone.
In freeze frame you stand in full uniform,
leaning one shoulder against a platform column
as the train pulls away. Its steam under pressure
churns like the final film on a take-up reel. You,
with one finger forever pressed to your silent lips.

Connie Kallback, 1986



Raindrops explode on the windshield
spraying luminescence in the wind   
as they lose their shape streaking upward
aslant on sloping glass to defy gravity.
Tiny tour guides, they lead the way
through fog and mist, their trails
converging from all angles at a spot
near top and center like biking paths leading
back to camp or flight of the lost boys
to Pan’s promised home.

Connie Kallback, 1995


Grandma's Practice Piece







Modern as Picasso, framed
century-old stitches jitter                    
like canine teeth joining velvet and calico.
An appliqued butterfly hovers
despite a hole eroded in one wing
revealing grayed cotton batting below
peering through smothering darkness.

Repeated childhood threads
turn in the chronic curvature
of a skeleton's backbone shrieking 
the cross-stitch of her father’s whiplash.
Tatted scars in thick white ropes
adorned her back even at eighty.

Two generations later I weave    
mismatched patterns in my own quilt. 
My needles pierce wayward fabric,
tug reluctant sinew-thick strands,               
bind him to me until we plunge  
heavy as weights in a curtain hem.                 
Her stitches grant permission 
to unravel the knotted cords, loosen
his homespun patches from mine  
into separate pieces again.

Connie Kallback, 1986

Photo of actual practice piece by Katie Jane (Whalley) Morse, maternal great-grandmother, born February 3, 1856, Charlotte, Vermont.


Virginia Reel

In years of creaking the old gate -                         
the only music I could make -
I finally weakened the hinges.
As rusted metal scarred cement,
the keeper stepped forward - too late.
I was free.  I dressed myself
in filigree latticework
to emulate the swinging doors
and scurried to the dance.        
The rest records the history:

I danced the reel with a fever                                               
to appeal to tribal dancers
leaping and kneeling, accompanied
by keening of strings instead of drums                      
for the coming-out party of my old age.           
In place at the foot of the line,
I offered an elbow in figure-eight form,
twirling in turn from sideline to center.
Reeling with freedom, I greeted in turn
some who’d forgiven but wouldn’t explain.

At each circle, the ceiling turned,                                     
peeling away my past fealty
to the scene behind the doors
where the gatekeeper still stands
with hands frozen to the gatepost,
knuckles whitened.

Come, friend, at music's end,                        
to help donate the dress. I’ll fling     
the filigree lace across the center aisle
where dancers' arms crisscross,
and hands clasp wrists, intertwined
in twisted lines like shimmering lianas.                
My final vestiges unleashed may save    
another dancer’s plea to celebrate the reel.  

Connie Kallback, 1987

Photo: Pexels, Harrison Haines

Photos are the property of their respective owners.



Chasing The Blue Boat