fiction
non-fiction
memoir
poetry
The author's Aunt Ruth as a toddler
Dodge


In ’84 or ’85, Ruth gave me her old car,
a gray ’67 slant six Dodge Dart.
My first, I named it Sarah Jane and drove
Ruth around the block, both of us
giggling at this fine car, my joy, her heart.
She wanted it perfect for me, Ruth did,
but the shop cheated her with a radiator
plugged and painted to look black new.
Every hour or so on the solo drive
home, steam rose and I sat
along the highway feeling low.
I read all of Ellison’s Invisible Man
that way, sitting on the hood
in Connecticut, New York, PA,
eating bagels and pissing over the bank.
On one forced stop, I found misplaced
under the seat, cards soliciting
a different life. On the cover, President Reagan
shook Senator Helms’ hand. Inside
he asked every Carolinian to vote
for his friend, Jesse, so together they could
save America. I couldn’t believe
Ruth believed, almost discarded in disgust.
At home, I made great fun with those cards,
rewrote words so the two smiling men
discussed their bomb-blasting hemorrhoids.
Then I sent the cards to all my college friends.
Jesse and Ron no longer shake their hands,
I sold that Dodge, and Aunt Ruth’s dead.
There’s little funny anymore in any of it.
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(c) 2012
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Her Secret Song

by Jim Minick
The Bike


A rich relative promised her this—
a one-speed English touring bike
with narrow tires, wide seat,
curving frame for gentle ladies,
a reward for twelve-year-old Ruth.
If she went to Johns Hopkins,
Mrs. Flickinger would pay
for both surgery and bike.

Ruth traveled to Baltimore,
five hours away, lost
a day to dream of prettier
mirrors while doctors cut at
the flap of skin that smothered her eye.
The scalpel did not work, gave Ruth
a scar on an already homely face.

Still, in the black-and-white from 1940,
Ruth straddles the bike and looks
into the camera, her hair curled,
her good eye piercing the shadows.
With the barn and mountain behind her,
she sits, gripping handlebars,
one foot on the pedal,
the other touching the ground, ready
to push off.
Clear Blue Spring


Her mother leans against the windowsill,
nuzzles peach-fuzzy head, and holds

the newborn to the light. Even then,
days into this world, the Scotch-Irish

blue of Ruth’s right eye begins
to disappear under a fold of skin.

The lid grows like a glacier covering
the landscape of her eye. By age three,

the glacier halts, becomes a bulging fold,
a small mountain with a trickling blue spring

seeping from underneath. At night, her parents
whisper their worry, but they can’t name this

without a doctor’s help. Years later
when a relative offers, the mountain is scarred

by scalpel, but not moved. The surgeons release
an avalanche of family despair. Yet

for both graduations, Ruth smiles
and looks straight into the camera.

She does the same with her sixth-graders
even though they snicker behind her back.

What did that seep of blue see? What coolness
of the underworld did it come to know?

She married late, hesitated at that,
a man sixteen years older.

Did he ever touch that eyelid,
see himself looking into that spring?

Ruth never talked about her eye,
even with sister or best friend,

never explored surgery again.
The doctor at her deathbed hissed,

“Don’t you know what this is?
Neurofibromatosis,

the elephant man’s disease,
an easy operation today.”

Ruth pushed on in those last long nights
diving into the spring, spelunking through

that coarse mountain, searching for the source.
Getting Ready


i.
Ruth and Mom sit on sofa, hymnbook open.
“I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus, that’s good,”

Mom reads aloud the ear-marked pages.
“Thou Wilt Keep Me in Perfect Peace and

Praise My Soul, the King of Heaven, right?”
Ruth nods and Mom writes. “Knock out

How Great Thou Art,” Ruth chortles, “That’s so
overused.” Mom finishes with Thine Be the Glory

and The Lord Is My Shepherd while Ruth
fades like the TV news. Then startled,

she shouts, “But who will sing for me?!”

ii.
The morphine makes her worry, talk
of weight: “Susan, bring me those scales,
the baby ones in the garage.” But why,
her sister asks. “We need to weigh my head
for the undertaker. He needs to know.”

iii.
In a quiet, lucid moment, I ask her
what she thinks heaven is like.
She pauses then says, “It’s hard to tell.
But ‘my father’s house has many mansions ….
No more sickness, no more pain.’”

Her last words to me, “I love you, and I just
am praying to die.” She had found a singer
but now grew tired of waiting to find
her certain mansion in her father’s house.
Grit, Spit and Will


“That’s the funeral home,”
Aunt Ruth points and nods.
We drive by the white house,
black hearse, subdued sign.

At home, she refuses a wheelchair,
says, “We’ll manage,” like
she told the doctor and quiet nurse.
So from car to sofa I

stumble behind, hold up
her elbows, ninety pounds
heavy with grit, spit and will.
Red-faced and tired, she

collapses, but like the cancer,
refuses to sleep. Later I find
funeral home folder, dark
green like ivy. Inside,

simple directions, cursive
signature, canceled check.
Ruth with her sister, Alma
Ruth with one of her 6th grade classes
Excerpts
After Spreading Her Ashes


i.
Dad asks, “What do we do with this?”
holding the cleaned
out canister of what
used to be Ruth.
“Throw it away.
Just another empty container.”

ii.
I cannot wash
my finger and thumb.

The fine ash fills the valleys
of each curving print.

“This used to be Ruth,”
I keep whispering to myself.

I roll thumb into journal to make
a fragile gray map.

Through it
I write.
Telling Bonnie


At the door of the neighbor’s house, I lean
to hold her face, palms on cheeks, fingers
on felt floppy ears. I want to look
into those shy beagle eyes, I want
language to carry this loss. But how
do you tell a dog the woman who saved you
couldn’t save herself, the woman who let
you snore on the sofa and lick all the plates,
your best friend who kissed your furry head
so many times is gone? How, how
do you tell the dog?
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Ruth with her sister, Susan (the author's mother) - 1999
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All images are from the author's personal
collection and are included, along with many
revealing others, in
Her Secret Song.