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Kalamazoo and Beyond

The Healing Powers of Art: An Invitation to Kalamazoo Writers, Artists and Thinkers

Interested in just about anything related to writing and reading – and art? And the potential healing powers of art?  If so, join me, Michael Loyd Gray, soon after the holidays for the first meeting of the Kalamazoo Roundtable. If you write or just love to read, here’s my clarion call to assemble and enjoy a beverage while exploring writing and art. The first meeting’s topic: The Healing Powers of Art. Proposed meeting place: The Wine Loft at 161 East Michigan, Suite 100, Kalamazoo. Reach me by telepathy or at for more information.

The Smoking Poet will post updates on the first meeting of Kalamazoo Roundtable here and on our Facebook page.

~ Michael Loyd Gray, author of Not Famous Anymore



Kimberly Grabowski





and I ruled a city then. Passing out star bright peppermints to calm the stomachs

of my men. Stuck between the teeth their molars were smooth with them.


Ghost-town set: the moral for this movie is you-can’t-go-home-again.

When it’s gone all my dreams are cerulean, something I never knew


my subconscious knew. But the Diaspora always idealizes the homeland,

the windswept left looking at the backs of their hands and saying “who?”


Cerulean, cerulean, it was like a swimming pool in the backyard, calm and cool

and sweet with our sweat. That conniving sun pulling the water into the sky,


it was too shallow for diving when we left. Your eyes are a different color,

you may as well be a different person. Your new accent was a surprise,


cerulean is gone from your blood. That disease passed from lover to lover.




Kimberly Grabowski is a senior at Kalamazoo College majoring in English with a concentration in creative writing. She acts as poetry editor of The Cauldron, the college's literary magazine. Beyond The Cauldron, Kimberly made her publishing debut in The Smoking Poet, and has gone on to author a chapbook entitled Red Velvet, published in the spring of 2011. Kimberly will be the intern co-editor for the Spring 2012 Issue of The Smoking Poet.


Milly and Vera


by Jaimien Delp




Vera wanted to go to the beach, and Milly didn't.  But Milly wouldn't say that, of course; that sentiment she would save for a more private moment, when it was just she and her daughter, and then she might be able to turn the afternoon back in her favor.  For now, it would look unpleasant to argue with a guest, and after all, she hadn't seen Vera in twenty years, not since her husband's – Vera's bother's –funeral.  For now, she would nod okay to all of Vera's suggestions about picnic baskets and cucumber sandwiches and finding a shady place by the shore for chairs and umbrellas.


“That would be so nice for you!” the daughter kept saying.   “We have chairs, we have umbrellas, we have picnic baskets, and I'm sure you'd love some time to catch up.  It's really just beautiful by the lake!”


Later, Milly would hold her short grey curls in her hands and shake her head and beg her daughter to do something.  “The drive is too long,” she would say, “and the sand so unsteady.  And I was just reading about how even the shade now, even when you're all covered up, can cause all sorts of horrible things.  That's what the studies proved.  And my mail!  Oh, there's so much mail today.  No, I just can't.”  Until that moment, though, when she could let her worry spill onto her daughter, she would have to bite her lip and hide her fear.  She wrung her hands in her lap as if she were twisting the keys to a piano, and smiled.  The daughter left to answer a ringing phone, and Milly thought about following her.


“Oh wonderful then!”  Vera said, patting Milly's knee.  “We'll have a grand time.  Just us girls, like during the WAVES.  Remember those times, Milly?” 


Milly perked up then, and looked at Vera.  It had been a long time since she'd talked to someone else who had lived through the war, and she had adored the WAVES, even cried when they'd told her the war was over and it was time to go home.  Home meant returning to work long, dull hours at her father's store, polishing the watches and tending the register, dusting and sitting.  Her father was kind but strict, and after work there was little to look forward to.  Life in Zagreb had been all about vibrant landscapes and games, but after their move to America in '38 there was no time.  America was about work and the passing of time and the Church.  Milly had felt sinful for her boredom, sinful for how desperately she had wished to escape, and sinful for leaving her family behind to go to Chicago when suddenly there was a war and women everywhere were gathering to support the troops and live independent, powerful lives.  There wasn't a lot, actually, that Milly hadn't felt sinful about, and she had combated the guilt by begging forgiveness dutifully after Mass each Sunday, Tuesday and Friday, and by following the scriptures exactly.  But that large grey bird had taken up residence in her head, and stayed; still, nearly seventy years later, despite the fact that she had long ago abandoned Catholicism, and despite the fact that the husband it had forced her to obey was dead, she still felt the grey presence.


“Now we didn't know each other yet, of course, during the WAVES.  Oh Milly, don't you wish we had?” Vera tilted her head back ever-so-slightly when she smiled, and the gesture made her look young. 


“You know, I've told very few people this, but do you know why I joined the WAVES?”  Milly felt her cheeks flushing.


“Why was that, Milly?”  Vera leaned forward, and put her hand on Milly's knee again.  “You wanted to go to California, didn't you!” 


“Oh, everybody wanted to go to California!  I wanted to go to California very badly, but no, that's not why.”  Milly's cheeks were growing maroon-colored now, bright as the belly of a cardinal.  She covered her face with her hands and it was the first time, Vera realized, that she had ever seen Milly behave girlishly. 


“Why was it, Milly?  Was this about a young man, before Lewis?  Now, Milly!”  Vera let her head fall backwards once again, and laughed. 


“No, no ...” Milly answered, all blush and girl now.  “It was... Oh, you won't even believe it! Well, you see, my piano teacher was grooming me for a concert, and I knew if I had to do it, I was just going to die!  So I needed a way out, and so I joined the WAVES.”  Milly held her hand in front of her mouth, as if to catch the little laughs before they escaped.  Her arched shoulders twittered. 


“Oh Milly, you didn't!” 


“I did!  Can you believe it?  I'd given one or two recitals before, and it almost killed me!  All of those people, no, I just knew I couldn't do it!  I really thought I would die!”


“Isn't that a story! Oh, the things we do.  Now tell me you've written all of this down somewhere, Milly!”


“No, no...”


“Oh, but you have to!”


“You know, my hands are just so shaky now, it would take such a long time.”  Milly batted her hand at the air as if to show Vera that this would be impossible.


“You could do it, Milly!  Of course you could.  So what if it took awhile!  But really you should write all of this down, document it!” 


Milly nodded, but it was apparent that she had little intention of taking Vera's suggestion.  Vera settled herself back in her chair, and Milly lowered her hands from her mouth to rest again in her lap.


“What a time we would have had together, both of us stationed in Chicago.  Because you met Lewis after the war.  When was it, exactly, Milly?” 


“Shortly after the war, yes,” Milly answered.  “We were married in 1946.” 


“That's right, it was '46.  Of course it was!  How could I forget that?  It was right before Vera was born.  I was big as a house at the wedding.  Remember that?  I remember you had that lovely dress with the crochet bodice on it, and I just thought, what a lovely girl my brother's found.” 


“No, you're too kind,” Milly said, in her whispering, tremolo laugh that sounded as if it was fluttering in a cage.


“Yes, Milly, that's just what I thought.  That's just what we all thought!  Lewis really was smitten with you.” 


Milly nodded.  “Yes, well ...” 


Vera sensed that the pause wasn't about to end, and picked it up.  “I know, dear.  I wish I knew what happened.  I wish I knew.”


“Me, too.”  Milly laughed her hummingbird laugh again.  “But really, it wasn't so bad... You know, everybody has their difficult times.  And I survived!”


“Well, I know Milly, but still. I've asked myself over and over, and I just have no idea.  It was like all of a sudden this switch just went off in him or something, and he was a different person.  Even when I saw him, he was a different person.”


Milly nodded again, but she was beginning to feel a kind of permission now to speak up.  Vera was vibrant and talked with her hands and her arms and her whole body, and you could tell she meant what she said. 


“It was like that,” Milly said. “Before we got married, you know, everything was wonderful.  But we didn't know each other long, of course.  It all happened very fast, he wanted to be married right away.  And then everything just changed.”


“You poor dear.  It must have been terrible.” 


“Well ...” Milly stopped, then began again.  “I do remember one time, I wanted to go out shopping, for groceries, you know.  He usually did all of the shopping for us, but he always got the worst of everything.  Like bananas that were already brown, or apples with bruises all over them.  And on purpose. So you see, I wanted to go, at least to have fresh food for the children.  And I remember he said, “No, you're not going.  You're not to leave this house.”


Vera shook her head, and her ruby earrings seemed heavy on her ears. 


“It was things like that, always things like that,” Milly finished, wondering if she'd said too much now.  This time Vera let the silence run its course, hang in the air like a heavy rain, and the two of them stared out at the trees and squirrels beyond the porch.  Milly thought that yes, perhaps she hadn't needed to say all of that.  Lewis had been Vera's brother, and whatever Vera thought she knew about him, she'd never seen how truly cruel he could be. He had reeled in his anger around other people, even his sister.  But now, what did it matter, anyway?  It was in the past, so long ago, and weren't they all God's children, however they behaved?  And wasn't it up to Him to make the judgments?  And sure, there had been some good things about him, though her head was beginning to ache now trying to remember what those things were, hoping to mention some of them to Vera.  He had been charming those first few months when he'd courted her, before they married.  There was that. 


“You know, I do remember this onetime,” Milly said.  “Let me see, now, Lewis and I had been married for almost fifteen years when this happened.  It was when Grace was nine, and she had just gotten new glasses, but she'd broken them at school, out in the yard at playtime or something.  And I thought, oh no, what am I going to do, Lewis is going to be so upset. So I told Grace to go to her room when I heard Lewis pulling in the drive, and I showed him the broken glasses, but he didn't yell or scream or anything.  I remember he just sat down at the table for his dinner, and I thought that was the end of if, that Grace would just have to go without glasses until I could save up my own allowance. But the next day Lewis came home, and he had a new pair of glasses for her.  Pink ones, even.  He was always buying boys things, even for the girls; boys shoes or boys clothes, but he came home with pink glasses.  Where he ever found them I have no idea, but he did.” Milly shook her head, feigning amusement.  “And oh did Grace ever love those glasses!  She even wore them to sleep at night, I remember, and I would have to take them off of her so she didn't break them again!” 


Vera seemed to be watching something beyond the porch with great intensity, and Milly wondered if she had heard her.


“Sometimes,” Milly tried again,“ you know, he just did things like that, like show up with a present for one of the children or surprise us with ice cream.  I remember he did that once.  Vanilla with cherry bits in it from the shop down the street that the children always talked about afterschool.”  But still, Vera did not reply.  Perhaps Milly really had said too much, and now Vera was angry, and there was nothing Milly would ever be able to do to make up for it.  If she had upset Vera, she thought she might die.  She bit her lip and wrung her hands again.  Or perhaps there was something happening in the trees that Milly just couldn't see, and that's what Vera was thinking about.  Or perhaps she just really hadn't heard her. 


“There was another time—”


“Stop it, Milly.”  Vera was sharp now, but not mean.  Milly put her lips back together and looked down at her hands.


“I'm sorry, Vera.  I'm awfully so—”


“No, stop it.  You must stop this, Milly.  You're not sorry and you shouldn't be sorry.”  Vera turned now from the trees to look directly at her.  “He was a bastard and you lived with him for thirty-five years, and that's just nonsense.”


The world outside the porch was whirring and Milly felt that the wood panels beneath her might suddenly give way to the combined weight of their one hundred and eighty two years.  She shook her head and wondered what to say.


“No, no, he really wasn't like that ...” Milly felt her lips forming the words but she wasn't sure if there was any sound until she heard Vera answer her.


“Yes, he was.  You don't have to pretend he wasn't.  Why pretend any longer?  For whom?”


Milly thought back to God, and to the shelves of books she had ordered through Reader's Digest about the power of positive thinking.  She should remember the good things about the man she had married, no matter how few of them there were. She was in no position to judge another.  She was mortal like everyone else.  And a person's thoughts could control them and could control the things that happened to them.  Thinking bad thoughts about someone, especially someone dead, or about anything, really, could cause a person's life to wither.


“Oh, Vera, I shouldn't have –” But again Vera interrupted. 


“Milly, you must stop!  You're good to want to make him seem good, but let's face it, he wasn't. You poor dear.  But you've got to be mad about it!  Otherwise, if you don't tell the truth about it, it'll just live in you like a fever. He was a bastard, Milly.  Plain and simple.  Bits of cherry and all. I can only imagine how you must have wanted to leave him, but I'm sure he never would have let you.”


Milly said nothing, but she did begin to nod, very slowly, though she wasn't sure if the gesture was to pacify Vera, or an experiment in courage.  She felt the old grey bird whisking about inside of her skull.


“Did you ever try, Milly?  Did you ever try to leave him?”  Vera's eyes were great parachutes cast in the sun.


“I don't know,” Milly answered, and that was the truth. She didn't know, not really.  Maybe she had, but not very hard.  So maybe she hadn't.  How could she have.


“How do you mean, Milly?” Vera asked, but the daughter was returning now, with the phone in her hand.


“It's Kate, Aunt Vera.  She wants to say hello.”  The daughter handed the phone to Vera, and then knelt beside her mother.


“Are you having a good time, Mom?” the daughter asked.


“We're having a very good time,” Milly answered.  “But I'm terribly thirsty.  I think I need a little bit of water.”


“Let me get it for you,” the daughter said, and began to move towards the door.


“I think I need to stretch my legs.  I'll get it.  You come with me.”


Inside, Milly didn't waste any time.  Vera might not be very long, and she didn't want her to hear. She held her daughter's wrist like it was the key to an otherwise impossible lock.  


“Grace, Grace, I can't go to the beach.  I just can't.”


“Mom, it will be okay.  I'll be with you.  It will be a nice change of scenery for you.”


Milly put her head in her hands and shook it from side to side.  “No, no, it's much too far.  It's much too difficult.”


“What's difficult about it?” Grace was arching her eyebrows in the way Milly knew meant she would make everything better.  “I'll be right there with you, Mom, and we won't be gone long.”


“No no no, it's just too much. Even the shade now, they're saying, can cause all sorts of damage. And the mail!  There's so much mail today.  No, I just can't.” 


“Okay,” the daughter swallowed a sigh that went undetected by Milly.  “If you really don't want to go, I'll figure something else out for the afternoon.  Don't worry about it, Mom.”


“Yes,” Milly said, “I think that would be best.  It's just too much.” 


Outside, Milly could hear Vera talking on the phone, wishing her daughter a pleasant afternoon, laughing like the day had no end to it. 



Jaimien Delp received her MFA in Poetry from the University of Michigan,where she was awarded a Helen Zell Fellowship and was a semi-finalist for the Hopwood Theodore Roethke Prize. She earned her B.A. in Drama and Creative Writing from Bennington College.  Her collection of poems, Point of Sand,was awarded the Michigan Writers Chapbook prize in 2009.  Her work has also appeared in the Dunes Review and Traverse Magazine.  Jaimien spends her summers in Northern Michigan, where she teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Interlochen Center for the Arts.  She is currently at work on her first full-length collection of poems as well as a colletion of short stories. 

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