Words On Sand | Ray Zimmerman


Words on Sand by Ray Zimmerman.jpg
Words on Sand



Ray Zimmerman is the author of First Days (Finishing Line Press) and Executive Editor of Southern Light: Twelve Contemporary Southern Poets, Ford, Falcon, and McNeil. He serves as producer of the Little Owl Music and Arts Festival, now in its fifth year at Audubon Acres. Ray’s photographs have appeared in the Tennessee Conservationist and the Photographic Society of America Journal.


Waste Not | Terry Barr

Waste Not

by Terry Barr

“Take him down by the vacant lot on the corner,” Dad said, “That way no one will mind what he does.”

The thought of cleaning up after Sandy never entered our heads, and so I’d lead him by the leash to this open area and watch as the poor guy nervously did his business. He’d leave an impressive mound and sometimes Jim Terry, the bird dog who lived across the street, would join us. If my brother were with us and saw either dog hunched over and defecating, he’d point and laugh at them. The dog in question would then shake all the more, as if he knew to be embarrassed. Upon completion the dogs would proceed to scratch up some earth, believing as dogs do that just a few scratches of soil will cover their solid remains. I would then lead Sandy back home, back to his dog house where he’d spend every night – rain, sleet or snow – huddled in his blankets.

The vacant lot was way at the end of our street, and at ten years old I was a little terrified at the overgrown bushes and what could be lurking behind them. So I’d walk only a little ways and let Sandy do his pooping in the McEniry’s yard, or the Bruce’s. It was dark, I figured no one would see and in the morning, who was to say which dog did it? I confess to feeling a little guilty at my laziness, my fears. I knew that I’d made work for these elderly neighbours, that they would have to clean the mess up themselves or have their “yard men” do it. Whatever guilt I felt, however, did not stop me from encouraging my dog to fill their yards with his waste.

Sandy died when I was a junior in college from a fast aggressive cancer. My parents had him put to sleep before they even told me he was sick. I knew he had been losing weight, but being away, I didn’t see him often or much at all. My parents kept up with his daily routine. They knew what he was consuming and producing and dealt with it as they saw fit. I remember my Dad saying too often to my dog, “You stink,” but no one guessed the cause of this stench, the one that smelled like poop even when there was none.

I didn’t wonder then, but very much do so now, about what we fed our dog (the same meal of Purina Prime every day) and if whatever went into that food caused his cancer. I wonder, too, about his poop. Did it affect anyone else? What could or should we have done differently? I so loved my dog, yet I let him eat unhealthy food. I let him be blamed for soiling other people’s space.

What sort of owner was I?


Thirty years passed and I never owned another dog. Once, when my daughters were seventeen and thirteen, they found a stray dog in our yard. He looked liked some sort of Labradoodle, a dog someone wanted. So we kept him overnight in our basement, and the next morning I walked him through our neighbourhood, hoping he would lead me to his home. I had no sense of the right direction, and the dog seemed convinced that the streets to our south pointed homeward. It was an early Sunday morning and I hoped that people going to church might pass and recognize their pooch. Looking back, it seems silly and futile that I would go walking aimlessly, trusting on the dog and fate to relieve me of a burden I wasn’t ready for.

Of course the girls asked if we could keep him, and I might have considered it if we didn’t already have three cats. And if, when I saw this confused but happy dog poop that morning, I didn’t see him shake and strain to produce an enormous mound full of white squiggly living things: tapeworms, I assumed.

We kept the dog another night, and then rigged a stake and a rope in our front yard the next day and tied him there with a bowl of water nearby. We went to school and work, and later that afternoon my wife called to say that the dog had been found by his owners who lived just up the street from us in the opposite direction from where he and I had wandered the day before. He’s rescued, I thought, relieved. Yet I kept thinking about that shaking poop and those worms: a clear sign that the dog wasn’t being well taken care of. As well as I would have taken care of him if he were he mine. I didn’t clean his poop up that day even though I knew bagging had become the popular, eco-friendly and neighborly act. I didn’t want to get any nearer to those worms than I already had, so I left the poop to sit, the worms to crawl, and I wondered about all those others crawling inside that friendly dog, the one I never saw again.


For the past two years my wife has clamoured for a dog. She’s never owned one before and, in karmic preparation, she puts pictures of “her dog” around the house.

“I’m gonna find him,” she kind of threatened.

This past May, my wife got serious. We fenced in our yard and finished remodelling our house. “The time is right,” she said, and so she began haunting our no-kill Humane Society. I’ll confess that every time she came home empty-handed, I breathed more deeply.

Then one late Friday afternoon, I got the call:

“We found him [she and my younger daughter Layla, that is]. Do you want to come see?”

“No, if he’s the one, that’s fine with me.”

It was Layla who saw him first, a white Lab-looking six-month old puppy, exactly what my wife was looking for. My wife named him Max and recently I discovered that his true breed is American Dingo, or at least I’m as sure as one can be that he’s got dingo in him.

When we walk our Maxie, I don’t laugh and point at him when he poops; but I do I pick up his poop in our plastic bags, double-lined for maximum protection. Like all the neighbours I see doing likewise, I hold onto the bag until I reach a garbage can at our local park and toss it away, and when we go to the dog park at Conastee I do the same. My wife stands at the spot where our boy has relieved himself amidst the clatter and clamor of breeds and half-breeds, and Heinz 57’s, and we clean his poop in the baggies supplied by the park and throw them right away in the cans nearby. The cans that someone else eventually disposes of.

I have two questions: the first, as far as I know, is unanswerable. Why does Max immediately poop every time we enter the dog park? Or, as I’ve discovered lately, whenever we take him on a play date to his friend Fin’s house? I know that marking territory with urine is very much a doggie thing, but with poop?

My second question is: Where does the dog park poop go? The city dump? And then what happens? It biodegrades with the rest of the poop accumulated there, all buried in safe, sacred ground?

Another question I ask my wife is what she does when she scoops up Max’s poop from our backyard:

“I throw it over the fence into the wilder part of the yard. Or, I put it in the holes he’s started to dig and cover it. They say that keeps him from digging any deeper.”

Perhaps so, and that seems very responsible of her. In our own yard, I’ve mainly left the poop alone. I figure that when it finally returns to the soil, it will be good for the land, adding richness and cyclical nourishment to our ecosystem. Maybe, however, I haven’t been thinking so clearly. Maybe I haven’t exactly kept up with the latest trends in poop control:

Recently, a number of environmental activist groups have been trying to raise the guilt level of dog lovers because of the faecal matter that their pets produce. We are not only talking about the smelly stuff which gets on your shoe when some inconsiderate dog owner fails to pick up after his pup, or the possible contamination which such waste matter might produce when it gets into water supplies, but rather the larger issue of whether dogs contribute to global warming by producing greenhouse gases. So says Dr. Stanley Coren, a professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia:

An average dog will produce approximately 0.75 pounds of faecal matter each day, which, summing across all of the dogs in the city would be approximately 187,500 pounds of dog poop passed in every 24 hour period. Summing the output across an entire year, we reach the astonishing total of 68,437,500 pounds of dog waste per year for this one metropolis.

The city he’s referring to is Chicago. I live in Greenville, SC, a city a tenth the size of Chicago, so maybe our town produces only six million pounds of poop a year. Still, what do we do with all this mess?

Now you might already know this, but when Max’s poop, Jim Terry’s poop, and my old dog Sandy’s poop breaks down, it produces methane gas, a gas much more toxic for our environment than carbon dioxide. In Chicago, this means that the amount of poop-infused methane gas each year totals 102,000,000 cubic feet. I’ve always been sketchy about what a cubic foot looks like, but I’m pretty clear that 102 million of anything is powerfully impressive.

Apparently, Mathew Mazzota is also impressed. A conceptual artist and grad student at MIT, Mazzota wondered whether a by-product so bountiful might not have a productive use. He proposes that this dog-sponsored methane could be used as a power source. He received a grant from MIT to run such a test, called his project “Park Spark,” and installed it at a park in Cambridge, MA. The exhibit is actually two tanks; when your dog poops, you take the already-provided biodegradable bags at the exhibit, place the poop inside, and then insert that by-product into one of the tanks. Wheels turn, microbes begin digesting the poop, and before you know it, methane gas results, which is then burned off somehow.

Since I barely passed high school chemistry, I can’t explain it any better. But if you’re unclear about your own scooping bags, you can try http://www.poopbagclub.com and for a nominal price of $10-12 per month, you can get two lavender-scented rolls of vegetable based bags. Will your dog love you for this? Actually, Max doesn’t care for lavender himself; when my wife applies her nightly oils and creams, he flees. Then she has to use some other calming oils on him to get his mind off the lavender. What all this might be doing to his bowels, I’m not sure.

As glad as I am about Mazzota’s experiment, I think back with wonder and longing for those days when Jim Terry roamed the streets of our neighbourhood. When I directed Sandy to Mr. Bruce’s yard and stood there long enough for my dog to get both the message and the urge. In that era, some fifty years ago, dogs came and went, some good and some bad, their poop landing wherever it would. Sure we stepped in it. Sure it stunk, and sure we ingested its fumes.

To be honest, my wife and I complain when neighbours let their dogs do their business in our yard. That is, we complain to ourselves. We haven’t yet placed signs at the curb begging dog owners to “scoop the poop,” and I hope such a sign is not in our planned future. Maybe it’s just my relationship with dogs, but their shakily produced poop has never offended me. Most dogs try to cover their waste by scratching the ground around it. Then they wander off happy, believing they’ve done their best.

We can’t see the other things we’re breathing either, nor can I stop the poop from coming, so I choose not to see it as that big of a problem. There is too much anger in our society anyway. How can we love our environment, the earth, when we get so offended and irate at the way others legally express their love?

It makes me wonder, though, about the hearts of those owners. Are they like I was as a kid: happy to be relieved of my dog’s waste at any cost? Are they simply irresponsible people like I sometimes still am? Or is it worse: one of those problems that cause me to lie awake at night? If someone is so thoughtless of this aspect of his or her dog’s life, what else do they refuse to clean up? What else do they neglect?

What else do they inflict?

Terry Barr‘s essay collection, Don’t Date Baptists and Other Warnings From My Alabama Mother, is published by Red Dirt Press. His work has also appeared in Blue Bonnet Review, Quail Bell Magazine, The Bitter Southerner, South Writ Large, and 3288 review. He lives in Greenville, SC, with his family– and the dog, Max, mentioned in the essay. He has a cat, too, but cat poop isn’t such a problem.

Black and White | John C. Mannone

Black and White

by John C. Mannone

            Journal entry, May 30, 1979

            Wind River Wilderness, Wyoming

 The landscape is vivid Kodachrome and it is warm this Memorial Day weekend. I start to hike up the backcountry to camp in the mountains: nylon straps tension against my shoulders, hips torque to legs and my hiking staff stabs the ground for balance. I bulldog up the mountain to the flower-whitened knoll. Its soft grass sways in Wind River wind, which whispers words to me. I feel the solace of this place, the pine-scented truth, ethereal yet tangible, if only for a moment. I am with friends, but I am alone.

Where are you?

It snowed five inches overnight! I trudge downhill a few hundred feet down to the black river, my thoughts still heavy. Water plunges into cascades smoothing granite that was once hard grey, but now is slick—its atoms dissolving. Pine trees sentinel the glacier-scoured valley that was hollowed-out millions of years ago. How did the valley learn to grab the night cold and wrap itself in the morning with white? Yesterday’s dirt is tucked under the snow quilt. My dome tent, like an igloo, stands stark against the black and white water; ice blades jab the riverbank.

How many times has this drama played-out? How many times have I heard the wind rush the words into my ears? Into my heart? Everything here is true.


Even the sparrow has found a home

and the swallow, a nest for herself…

Don’t be afraid; you are worth more

than many sparrows.1


The black-capped chickadees, dressed white, scamper the rimed glaze and peck the ice, picking conifer seeds there, dropped as manna. They leave imprints, a wedged mosaic of frozen dance steps. I want to listen to their music, hear their secrets about love.

I lie down next to them. Stay still. Perhaps they’ll think I’m some kind of bird-god in blue—goose down shell, pileated toboggan; my sweater-arms fold as if red wings. But I am the one who is praying for answers to the cold-chiselled questions glyphed here on a blackboard of snow.

Across the river, an elk bugles for his mate, his cries echo off the rocks, wind-worn; the cliff-face stares at the brutal loneliness—its silence is hushed by a solitary sagebrush.


1A conflation of Psalm 84:3 and Luke 12:7

John C. Mannone has over 550 works published in venues such as Gyroscope Review, New England Journal of MedicineInscape Literary Journal, Windhover, 2016 Texas Poetry CalendarBaltimore ReviewPedestalPirene’s FountainEvent Horizon Magazine, Raven Chronicles and Drunk Monkeys. He’s been awarded a 2016 Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities writing residency and has two literary poetry collections, including one on disability, Disabled Monsters (The Linnet’s Wings Press, Dec 2015) featured at the 28th Southern Festival of Books. He won the 2015 Joy Margrave award for creative nonfiction in the Tennessee Mountain Writers contest. His meditative essay, “breeding lilacs of the dead land” appears in There’s This Place I Know… (ed. H. L. Hix and Heather Lang, Serving House Books 2015). He edits poetry for Silver Blade and Abyss & Apex and he’s a college professor of physics in east Tennessee. Visit his blog here.






Evening Waterfall Reflections | Joseph Norton


Sunset reflections at Stow Lakes waterfall
Evening Waterfall Reflections

Joseph Norton creates art using many traditional techniques including oil, acrylics and water colours, life drawing, sculpture and ceramics. He is also an information designer working in a range of electronic mediums. Joseph’s work has been shown in several group shows in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, including a recent video mural for the LGBT History Museum of San Francisco.

2 Pieces | Terry Bailey


September, Landscape Series, 2015
February, Landscape Series, 2015

Terry Bailey is a digital artist, interactive multimedia author, musician, filmmaker, educator, coder and media critic who has pioneered the fields of interactive multimedia and digital art since their nascent days. Pasadena Weekly marvelled about Bailey’s transition from youthful, female, Academy Award winning film studio developer and manager for Saul Zaentz (Amadeus, The Right Stuff . . .) to innovative artist and computer techie, and said of her, “Bailey’s had a remarkable career, usually the only woman in the fields she’s selected. Strong in both right- and left-brain pursuits, she’s a creative ‘techie’ . . . . a Renaissance woman.” You can contact her at terry@mediabench.com, and find Terry on her website here.

Cycle of Life | Alice Lowe

Cycle of Life

by Alice Lowe

It was a week since my last visit and a month, exactly—I’d marked my calendar—since I first saw the eggs. I made a dash when the gates opened this morning, froze when I saw the empty nest.


The flamingo lagoon is front and centre when you enter the San Diego Zoo. The stately, surreal-hued birds—iridescent coral like a shimmery summer sunset—enthrallvisitors of all ages. They browse and cluck, forage, meditate, do what it is they do, in companionable silence. Then suddenly, as if on cue, they squawk and bicker, flap and flit from one end of the enclosure to the other and back again. Just as abruptly they return to quiet repose. They nap with one spindly leg drawn up, their heads atop long sinuous necks extended back over their bodies.

The flamingos share their space with an assortment of ducks and a pair of rangy, spiky-feathered, marble-eyed, fierce-looking, steel grey creatures identified as Crested Screamers. Bigger than ducks, smaller than flamingos, they look like cartoon caricatures. I first noticed them last month when, passing the lagoon on my way to the monkey trail, I spotted an absurd-looking bird sitting on a grassy mound at the water’s edge. What on earth! I would have kept going, but at that moment she stood up and revealed four large white eggs. She dismounted and circled the nest a few times, scratched at the ground, then climbed back on. She nudged the eggs around with her long stem of a leg, pulling them closer together. She hovered, wiggling her hindquarters, before lowering herself down to cover her brood.

I was captivated and returned a few days later. She was on the nest, and a second bird moseyed nearby. Soon she, or he, got up and went through the same routine—orbiting the nest,

prodding and rotating the eggs, then shimmying back into place. I asked around but couldn’t find anyone who knew about them, so I went home and did some research. Chauna torquata, also called southern screamer, is a species of waterfowl from South America, related to ducks, geese and swans. They mate for life, and the shrill screeches of their courting calls can be heard up to two miles away. The female lays two to seven eggs that gestate for forty-some days, and couples share incubation duty. Chicks leave the nest as soon as they hatch, but the parents tend them for several weeks.

The zoo is the halfway point of my thrice-weekly five-mile walk from my house, around Balboa Park, and home again. Eager to welcome the anticipated fledglings and not knowing how long they’d been gestating when I discovered them, I started dropping by regularly.


Today both birds were standing near the empty nest, hollering at high volume in what appeared to be extreme distress. “Where are your babies?” I asked in dismay. Maybe they’d been removed; some newborns are placed in a nursery in the children’s zoo. I was ready to track them down when an attendant entered the lagoon. In an anxious burst I asked where are the chicks? when did they hatch? are they ok?

“Fake eggs.”


The eggs were fakes, she repeated. The zoo had trouble finding homes for last year’s chicks, so they didn’t want her to lay this year. “They put fake eggs in the nest to trick her into thinking she’d already laid them.”

I was stunned. Shattered. As if someone dear to me had suffered a miscarriage, a still birth, a phantom pregnancy. But if I was sad, what about the poor bereft birds, the grieving parents? In my mind I translate their indignant screeches:

“Where are they? What did you do with them?”

“Who, me? You were the last one sitting on them.”

“They were here last night—where could they be?”

“Let’s check the flamingo nests.”

“I want my babies!”


Nature offers consolation in the cycle of life. Ducklings by the dozen, no bigger than my fist, skitter around in and out of the lagoon, underfoot, fearless. At home a pair of finches readies the birdhouse on the canyon edge of our patio that they occupy each spring, darting back and forth with twigs and bits of fluff—soon I’ll hear the first faint “eeps” from within. I’ve been spying on a crow’s nest in our eucalyptus tree. This week there’s heightened activity and, yes, new life. It’s too high to see into, but I spot little dark heads—two, three?—bobbing up when the parents fly in with tender morsels.

I download pictures of crested screamer chicks, so ugly they’re adorable. “Next year,” I think.

The twosome at the zoo perseveres—what else can they do? “Next year,” they scream.

Alice Lowe writes about family, food and life in San Diego, California, and blogs at http://www.aliceloweblogs.wordpress.com. Her personal essays have appeared in numerous literary journals, including The Millions, Permafrost, 1966, The Tishman Review, Crab Creek Review, Hippocampus and Lunch Ticket.

4 Pieces | Gwen Wilkinson

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Gwen Wilkinson is a visual artist living in Ireland. She studied for her Masters Degree in Fine Art at the National College of Art and Design, Dublin. Her practice includes sculpture and photography.

Gwen’s photographic work explores the intersection between nature and artifice, metamorphosis and decay, fiction and reality. She works with a variety of photographic techniques ranging from historic analogue methods such as wet plate collodion, albumen and cyanotype printing to camera-less digital composites.

Gwen is the recipient of several arts awards including the prestigious Golden Fleece Award in 2011 and the Artlinks Award in 2009. Her work is represented in several State art collections including the Office of Public Works and the Department of Foreign Affairs.


Street Fruit | Danusha Goska

Street Fruit

by Danusha Goska

Instead of growing fatter, the mulberries on the Dodds Street tree are growing longer, like blistered black pinkies, dangling. The tree has an unblocked southern exposure. I stood in the street and went over it like a cedar waxwing. Waxwings are fruit-eating birds; sitting on a power line, they will pass a berry from mouth to mouth, so all can share. This is a community-building behavior. With avian attentiveness I carefully selected the longest, blackest fruit, which, just jostled, dropped into my hands, my mouth, onto my sneakers, and, splattering purple onto the white cotton, into my breast pocket.

A young woman in a plain beige skirt and white blouse worked in the yard; when she bent over I could see her underpants and down the front of her shirt, though I sought no such access. Her front door was open and Henry Purcell’s “Fairy Queen,” rang from the house. Maybe she’s a music student at Indiana University, Bloomington. At first she and I did not speak, or even acknowledge each other’s presence. I finally remarked, “You have the best mulberries in town.”

“Well, thank you,” she said. “Would you like a container?”

I didn’t know how to say no. I didn’t know how to communicate how I feel about eating fruit for free on the street, how it reminded me of being a kid and cruising the shimmering hot macadam streets of Wanaque, NJ, on my bicycle, dressed as I was now, in cut-off jeans and shirt tail hanging, shoeless, scouting out ripe choke cherries and gobbling them down by the handfuls, knowing full well that eyelash-sized worms wriggled their way through every one, and that I crushed them under my molars along with pulsing magma-red wild cherry flesh, not caring that I was eating bugs, feeling that this was the closest I’d come to being what I wanted to be: a peasant child who had never immigrated to America, a wild animal, invisible to humans and unable to speak their language, a hunter-gatherer eons before civilization had set in, a welfare brat crafty and slick enough to survive on what I could find each day, my skills rescuing my unschooled immigrant mother from knuckle-gnawing factory labor thus defying the last-name-ends-in-a-consonant, native-born, 1960s American welfare state for sustenance.

“No,” I said. “The mulberry skins are too fragile. They get mooshed if you try to collect them.”

“Well, come get them anytime,” she said. “I tried them a couple years ago, and I don’t like them.”

We went about our respective activities: garden work and gathering, until I took off after I ate so many mulberries I began to get queasy, that summer-queasy when winter has been long and pinched and summer fruit are free.

Danusha Goska is a writer and teacher living in NJ. She is the author of Save Send Delete.

True Tales From The Wild Heart Critterarium | Albert Lannon

True Tales From The Wild Heart Critterarium

by Albert Lannon

1. TOADS IN A HOLE – When the summer monsoon storms hit and Wild Heart gets drenched, an amazing thing happens.  Dozens of toads – Couch’s Spadefoot, Mexican Green, others, dig up and out of their self-imposed tombs and begin croaking madly, looking for love.  They join the big Sonoran Desert Toads who hide in holes year-round in a mating frenzy. 

One night two Spadefoots were calling each other, one from our little fish pond, the other from outside our fence.  By morning they had found each other, the male with his arms around the female, clusters of fertilized eggs floating in the puddle.  Monsoon rains are hit and miss, intense but in very small cells, so soon the puddles start drying up.  Night one, the eggs are laid; night two tadpoles hatch.  By night four or five, as the puddle shrinks, the tadpoles do a rapid metamorphosis into little toads, little fingernail size.  Using the digging pur on their hind legs, they dig down into the still-moist soil to wait for the next storm.  While doing all that they eat a lot of bugs, including mosquitoes, and anything that eats mosquitoes is our friend!  ‘

With persistent drought there have not been many toads in recent summers.  I miss them.  

2. NIGHT MUSIC – I sleep outside on a futon on our back patio more than half the year, with mosquito netting to keep the occasional bug out.  Just about every night with moonrise, or just before dawn, or at anytime they feel like it, it seems like hundreds of coyotes lift their voices, yipping and howling and singing in a Coyote Jamboree.  Local dogs, and sometimes the donkeys down the road, are inspired to join in the music-making.  Then they all quiet down and I hear the gentle hooting of great horned owls on their nightly hunt.  Sometimes a cicada chimes in, or an awakened rooster, and then it is silent, the stars bright with the Milky Way winding its path through them.  An occasional shooting star.  I sleep, and I dream.

Albert Vetere Lannon lives on a Sonoran Desert acre he and his mate, artist and poet Kaitlin Meadows, call Wild Heart Ranch. A recipient of prizes from the Arizona State Poetry Society and Society of Southwestern Authors, his poetry, essays, reviews and stories have appeared in numerous “little” magazines over the years. He has also published two non-fiction history books and, at age 78, is currently working on a novel.  He has written community news and local history for several publications, and remains active in opposing the building of an interstate highway through the Avra Valley west of Tucson, and aerial spraying of cancer-causing glyphosate that has sickened local residents with unreported effects on wildlife.

3 Pieces | Thomas Terceira

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Thomas Terceira has been a craftsman and a designer for more than thirty five years and has shown his jewellery and enamels nationally and internationally. In the past, he has acted as a designer, sample maker, and model maker for jewellery manufacturers and retailers. Thomas has been creating this particular collage, decoupage and mixed media art work for over ten years. His collage works have won numerous awards and have been frequently exhibited.