Nebraska Center for Writers

by Sherrie Flick

I WAS TRYING TO DIG DEEPER, the crusty earth stubbornly folding itself up and away. I was digging for potatoes at a time when I should have had something better to do — a man to feed. Something.

I stuck my naked feet into the dirt, wiggled my toes, stretched my stiff back, bringing my arms straight up to the sky. I could feel the potatoes — cancerous lumps I needed to surgeon out.

My Italian mother had hated the Irish, hated the potato, hated the boats that had brought my father’s family into port. She’d hated the whole drunken lot of a culture — with dancing and whiskey — a culture that had produced her husband, a man who could woo her into a barn at 15, knock her up, and live by his mistake happy as a clam until the day he died.

After Joe had left me for good, I chopped down the tomato plants. I’d been the good Italian girl, waited to marry the decent guy, had rows of immaculate canning: stewed tomatoes, tomato sauce, hot peppers, and sweet relish on the cellar shelves. Broken hearts, glistening — jar after jar.

For the women in my family, it’s a genetic trait to seek unhappiness, to groom discomfort, to take misery and rock it gently to sleep night after night — whether it exists or not.

And still, my father died; Joe left.

I put the potatoes in a bowl, in a place where the morning light washes over them — rinsed and scrubbed squeaky clean. In the morning, when I stumble from bedroom to bathroom to kitchen, they look alive and miraculous: a beacon.

Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2002
by Sherrie Flick

SLEEP 1969
by Sherrie Flick

PERHAPS THE BABY OWL was a sign as it came down outside your boyhood window—new feathers tousled, shocked and mourning the loss of easy flight. The short hoots over and over, lost as it was on your rooftop in Omaha, Nebraska, 1969.
Or perhaps it was the boy dreams all around you, the five brothers grunting and gurgling earthy dream noises of the hunt, the kill, the escape. Or perhaps it was the moon, the snow, the baby owl, the night. And you—there—magically awake to see this disaster of attempt.
The big man and your mother creaking in their rocky boat of a bed right next to the wall with chinks in the plaster you tried to stop-up with cottonballs lifted from your sisters’ dresser the night before. Perhaps it was the creaking springs, or the moment they stopped and the house took an inhale, deep, long, oblivious to the tiny owl—out there on the roof, a jumble of feathers. Streamlined a few moments before, gliding in the crisp, flat air of the Great Plains, now tousled and hooting, waiting for change.
Touching the frozen panes of glass with your thin fingers—perhaps it was the cold making it real forever—the owl, hooting. You, there, in a rustle of hand-me-down pajamas, sheets, blankets, thoughts—not knowing this moment would never really end.
And when the mother owl in her magnificence swooped down—after hours, after what seemed like days but were hours, the mother coming to rest beside the baby—perhaps that meant hope.

Reprinted with permission
from I Call This Flirting
Copyright © 2004
by Sherrie Flick
Flume Press

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The Rock

Nebraska Center for Writers