Welcome to WWPH Writes 53…This issue is about child and parent relationships. In Heather Bruce Satrom’s poem, Learning to Fly, we see the parallels between a mother teaching her daughter freedom and her daughter teaching a bird to fly. In the novel excerpt from Michelle Brafman’s Swimming with Ghosts, a young girl hopes her father is safe—safe from drinking too much and landing a dive. Parents worry for their children, but often children worry for their parents. We hope you enjoy these two beautiful pieces. Plus, we have news about our second TINY POEMS special issues coming up in August.
co-president and poetry editor, WWPH Writes
WWPH WRITES: POETRY
Heather Bruce Satrom teaches non-native speakers of English at Montgomery College. She recently returned to writing poetry and creative nonfiction after a long hiatus focused on parenting and teaching. A believer in the healing power of storytelling, Heather is working on an oral history project, documenting the lives of immigrant and refugee students at MC. She recently walked the Portuguese route of the Camino de Santiago and wrote some poems along The Way. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @heatherbrucesatrom on Instagram.
LEARNING TO FLY
On a cold day in February
I see my daughter
Walking in a field —
Silhouetted in the late afternoon light,
She walks steadily, her arm raised,
A red-tailed hawk perched on her gloved arm.
The bird is healing.
My daughter is teaching her to fly.
She lifts her arm, and the hawk —
Attached by a long tether,
Stretches her wings.
©Heather Bruce Satrom 2023
WWPH WRITES: A NOVEL EXCERPT
From the novelist
Michelle Brafman…context on her novel excerpt…
Gillian Cloud, uber swim mom, is one of four characters who narrate Swimming with Ghosts. The novel’s plot hinges on her fierce attachment to the River Run Manta Rays and every single one of the team’s traditions. She buzzes around as the queen bee of the swim team even after her two sons have stopped swimming. Why can’t she let go? What is she holding on to? This passage, told from the point of view of Gillian as an eleven-year-old pool rat, seeks answers to these questions…
Swimming with Ghosts excerpt
“Mine?” Gillian had been dreaming of checking in members in the
lifeguard office, but she didn’t think it would happen until she turned
twelve, at the earliest. She touched the Bic pen wrapped in masking
tape etched with “Property of River Run Pool” in red letters. No pen
was going to disappear on her watch. Today she would be the one writing
the dates down on the families’ assigned index cards and—oh, my
gosh—keeping track of guest passes!
One hour into the job, Gillian’s parents and brother came to say hi.
Dad’s new camera dangled from his neck as he raised a cigarette to his
lips. He leaned toward Gillian and whispered, “I’m proud of you.” To
her relief, his breath smelled like cigarette smoke and plain coffee.
Gillian melted into her father’s praise, proud that she knew how to
make him happy, even if not for long. “Thanks.”
“Look who’s here,” Dad said, and he and Mom ran off to snag chairs
right next to Mr. and Mrs. Spillman. Gillian watched Mr. Spillman
reach into his cooler and hand Dad a bottle of beer. She stuck her hand
in her pocket and felt for the rabbit’s foot she’d won last summer for
making every single swim practice. If she stroked the fur fifteen times,
maybe she could make Dad stop at one beer.
A few hours later, she heard voices swell from the pool area. Kids
were chanting. “Mis-ter. Nor-ton. Mis-ter. Nor-ton.”
“Go out and look,” Scott said. “Your dad is the man, you know that,
Gillian stepped away from the desk and passed her buddies on the
way to her family’s spot at the far end of the diving well. The sun had
eaten up most of the early-afternoon shade. Gillian stood between her
brother and her mom, who was chewing on a nail she’d polished pastel
pink only yesterday. Gillian picked up her father’s camera and pressed
the viewfinder to her eye, tracking Sebastian Norton as he rose from his
seat. He took a long drag on his cigarette, picked up a stray beer bottle,
and jammed the butt into its mouth. He tightened the tie of his trunks
and winked at the swimmers chanting his name.
Dad approached the diving board and started his climb. The chanting
grew to a roar, “Swan-dive. Swan-dive.” When he reached the last
rung, Gillian held both her and her mother’s breath as his foot wobbled.
Even the loudest little kids quieted down. He stood on the rear of the
board and gazed past Patrick to Gillian. For a second, she thought she’d
get in trouble for using his camera without his permission, but instead
he yelled, “Get this, baby girl,” his faint slur likely unnoticeable to anyone
but a Norton. “I will,” she mouthed.
Gillian prayed. She asked God to wrap his arms around Sebastian
and guide him into the water so he wouldn’t hit his head on the board
and die. She prayed for Mr. Spillman to run out of beer, for the family
to head home before her father started wanting something stronger, and
for her mom to designate tonight Jiffy Pop Saturday, where they would
eat popcorn and then play Monopoly.
She pushed the camera harder into her eye socket, trying to sense
when Dad would start his dive. The sun beat down on his broad brown
shoulders as he strode across the board with great purpose. Gillian’s
heart pounded so hard, she thought it might rattle the River Run pen
she’d tied on a string around her neck. He jumped, once, twice, three
times, and on the fourth bounce he raised his hands over his head and
leaped into the air. In that split second, Gillian moved back far enough
to capture him in his glory—his long arms spread like Jesus on the cross
and his lips split open into a grin practically spanning the width of the
pool—but she stood close enough to edit out the beer bottles around
his empty chair.
Dad’s entry was perfect. God had listened to her.
Michelle Brafman is the author of Bertrand Court: Stories and the novel Washing the Dead. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Oprah Daily, Slate, LitHub, The Forward, Tablet, and elsewhere. She teaches fiction writing in the Johns Hopkins University MA in Writing Program. A former swim mom and NCAA All-American freestyler, Michelle has never lived more than a mile away from a lake, ocean, or river. For more information, please visit www.michellebrafman.com.
Excerpted from Swimming with Ghosts by Michelle Brafman. ©Michelle Brafman, 2023. Used by permission of Turner Publishing. Purchase your copy of Swimming with Ghosts here.
A special kudos to Michelle on the acclaimed publication of Swimming with Ghosts. She was also a contributor to our recent anthology, This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland, and Virginia, and a related story I Am Your Mask first appeared there.
WWPH Community News
TINY POEMS are BACK for the second year! We had so much fun with our big TINY POEM August issues we are doing it again! Yes, it’s free to submit. We make it extra easy. Email us your poem in the body of the email (no attachments, please) by JULY 31st. Include your tiny bio. If you submitted last year, we are happy to see new work. Read last year’s TINY POEM special issue and be inspired!
Submitting your manuscript to WWPH We open our annual manuscript contests in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction on September 1! Keep reading WWPH Writes , follow us on social media, and be the first to know all the details (and some exciting news for 2024!). All entries are judged blind by past winners of WWPH. The best thing one can do now? Finish your manuscript AND buy/read our past winners! Read about 2023 award-winning books, which will be published on October 3, 2023 here.
Purchase our award-winning books on our new affiliate page on bookshop.org …
Erratum (we made a mistake) in the copyright line of our last issue. Kathi Wolfe’s last name was spelled incorrectly. Our apologies. If you missed our PRIDE issue featuring the winning poetry and prose from our contest, read it here.
Enjoy summer reading!
Co-President & Fiction Editor, WWPH Writes
Co-President & Poetry Editor, WWPH Writes