NeWP Spring Marathon 2017 with the Warrior Writers

NeWP TCs and members of the Omaha Warrior Writers met at Sorenson Library to launch the 2017 Spring Writing Marathon. Writing groups set out across the Dundee neighborhood to capture the day through their pens. Popular writing spots included eCreamery, Memorial Park, the Dundee community garden, and local coffee shops. Please enjoy some of our writing from the day.

Grandma’s Strawberries

By Dave Swett

An hour in Grandma’s garden seemed like ten minutes to me as a young boy. She knew how to turn entertainment into productive labor.

The weeds were not weeds, they were the opposing army and they all needed to be killed. As she pulled out a dandelion, I can still remember the sound and animation in her voice as she would yell (not so softly) “Die Communist, Die!

I would soon follow suit, with encouragement from her.

“Get them David, kill them all!”

And then the laugh. Not a Grandma laugh, but a maniacal laugh more along Boris Karloff’s sinister line of laughter.

After a period of time had passed, Grandma shifted to supervising as I engaged the enemy, while she cheered on her six-year old trained killer to pick up the pace because there was another battalion of communist dandelions in between the beans and kohlrabi.

As the morning grew warmer, we’d move to the strawberries where Grandma’s mantra would switch to “Better dead than red!” This was the signal to get the ripe strawberries picked, but to also enjoy the cannibalistic pleasure of eating every other communist plucked from the plant.

My Grandma Ida was a superb and shrewd commander.


By Carrie Feingold

Thanksgiving morning has barely broken. The fraction of my awareness focused on anything beyond my purpose and destination notes universal grayness: sky, clouds, walls, buildings viewed through fogged windows. My eyes rest on that view through those windows because I fear looking at you.

When I force my eyes to your face, I see a stranger. Never heavy, you are now stripped of surplus flesh. In the sharp angles of your face I see an old man, but we have recently celebrated your 49th birthday. Metasticized lung cancer has claimed middle-age, energy, hope, a promising professorial career, our future.

A nurse I haven’t seen before peers into the room. I beckon her over, ask if he’s receiving the highest possible dose of morphine. She answers, “Yes, we’re doing everything we can to keep your father comfortable.” I don’t bother correcting her.

You lie immobile, reminding me of photos of Auschwitz prisoners, skeletal, dull-eyed. Your chocolate eyes that once admiringly surveyed my face, my body, now focus on the grey ceiling tiles meant to muffle sounds. I wish they could muffle the sounds of your rasping irregular breaths and the mumbling that now passes for talking. Those are the worst. I can close my eyes and imagine you fully fleshed, standing, walking, swinging one of our children high in the air, reaching out to me. But I cannot hear your voice, the voice that uttered profound sense and profound nonsense, that prevented me from killing both of us and an innocent motorist on I 80 when I was learning to drive, that shared party-saving jokes, that sang a hundred Broadway show tunes, that whispered endearments, that roared expletives. Your voice is gone, replaced by intermittent muttering. I can only guess at its desires and intents.

I hear you now. I see you point a trembling finger at your head. Your head aches? I try to interpret, touching your hand to calm and reassure you, sensing through your response that I am accomplishing neither.

Beyond the window, light snow quickens into the threatened storm. Our children await my return. I fear the journey ahead, regret the cowardice that prompts this choice. At the door I turn, look at you one last time. You have turned your face from me, toward the window. Snow falls like a loosely woven blanket. Do you see it? Will it be your last sight?

I turn and walk away, leaving you before you can leave me.

Crisis at Home

By Sharon Robino West

The events felt life-changing. As I was flung across the dark kitchen for the third or fourth time I heard a “crack”. I forcefully spun around and hit the wall.

“Will I live or die”, I thought. “I have to get over to the light switch or over to that door. I’ve got to wake up John!”

At that moment I connected with the wall and my hand traveled over to the switch. The light washed over the room and everything stopped, both of us motionless for that moment. Then my son turned and walked in to his bedroom and silently began to pack his ruck sack. It was as if in that moment he was suddenly back, thinking this was a place where he would no longer be welcomed, while at the same moment I was in my bedroom, shaking my husband awake with one hand.

“What’s going on – what – what happened to you? What’s wrong with your hand?” My husband asked, as I quickly tried to get him up and out, and keep an eye on my son in the next room.

“Just get in the car and let’s get him to the VA NOW!!!”

“But what…”

“Let’s just GO! We need to get him there NOW!”

As we started the car and pulled it out of the garage, I walked back into the house with my husband and called my son from the bedroom.

“We need to go to the VA now. Are you ready?”

Motionless and without a sound, he hoisted his ruck and jumped into the back seat of the car. It was a 35 minute ride to the VA on a good day. I thought as we pulled out of the driveway on that starry night that I was glad there was no one out; it would make the trip that much quicker. We all sat quietly in the car as we drove and I kept thinking about what he’d already been through in Anbar Province in 2006, and what this incident might now mean for him if he remembered it, or at least when it was brought to his consciousness. It could overshadow all that he had done and seen up to this point. And I thought about the knife I had seen when we were in discussion before the whole incident began. Where was the knife? I hadn’t thought of it till then. Did he still have it? Was he going to use it from the backseat? Why had I not thought to mention it to my husband in the rush of things before? It was too late now, and we were in too confined a space to draw attention to it at this point. We all continued to sit silent and motionless as we drove on into night, and finally the emergency room of the VA Hospital.

“Sir, I have a Veteran here who is home from Iraq. He’s just had a flashback and he needs immediate treatment.”

“What happened?” The security guard asked as he looked over at a wall to his left where a young man in camouflage was sitting with his dog.

“You see that man over there with the dog?”

“Yes Sir.”

“He just rolled up here with his dog saying he felt like killing someone, so he thought he better come here. I got a ward full of them up on the 10th floor.”

Well. That didn’t sound hopeful. But I had nowhere else to turn. We were out of answers for my son at this point. There wasn’t a lot of information out there. The security guard ushered my son and I in and took a statement from me, which began again with:

“My son was in Iraq. He just had a flashback.”

“What happened to your arm?”

“I was injured in the process. My son was not there – let me explain. He was not there. I looked into his eyes. I did not see him. Just black. I only saw blackness when I looked into his eyes.”

“We’ll get him situated upstairs. You go get that arm taken care of.”

To this day I don’t know why I didn’t say to the man, “I, too, am a Veteran. Can you take care of it here?” Probably because many still don’t think of women as Veterans, and often the last person we think of is ourselves. Besides, I had insurance, so I went down the street to the University Hospital. My son stayed at the VA.

We proceeded down to the University Hospital ER, where I again stated,

“My son was in Iraq. He had a flashback. I was hurt in the process.”

I was taken into a room (by this time the arm was throbbing pretty agonizingly. Funny, I hadn’t noticed it until now). I was asked to speak to a sheriff and explain everything that happened. This took about an hour. No one had bothered to look at my arm yet. My husband had said on the way over,

“Jeezus, I hope they don’t think it was me!”

Finally an attendant came in, put my arm on a hanging stretcher to separate my jammed wrist bone from my left hand as much as possible, then he proceeded to run me over to the x-ray and see what we had.

“Broken wrist”, he said. “We’ll have to set it, then a doc can see it on Tuesday and decide if you need surgery or just another cast. This one will keep you immobile over the long Labor Day weekend.”

The sheriff came back into the room.

“I can’t take your statement because you live in Cass County. You’ll have to talk to the sheriff there when you get home. They’ll be coming to see you.”

Great. I was exhausted. Probably in shock. I hadn’t shed a tear yet, and I kept thinking of my son. How was he doing? Why were they getting law enforcement involved? I wasn’t asking for them. I wasn’t filing a report. I had taken my son in to get help for a flashback. If they did not know how to handle this, we were in big trouble. If this was not the first time they had seen a returning Veteran who was struggling, it would not be the last. And I would tell them so. I was afraid I could see where this was going.

Home. Fourteen hours later. The sun was shining and two sheriffs were there to meet me. All I wanted to do was sleep. Definitely I knew I was in shock now. And sinking into depression as I saw these two standing at our door. I gave them the same statement that I had everyone else.

“My son was in Iraq. He had a flashback. I was hurt in the process.”

After more of their questions and the two of them walking our premises, I went to bed. I woke up several hours later, poured a glass of orange juice with my good hand (this maneuvering with one hand was going to be an adjustment) and put on one of my favorite songs, which felt appropriate, really appropriate “I’m Alive” by Kenny Chesney, still trying to take it all in.

The phone rang, and as I answered it I heard my son’s hesitant voice.

“Mom, they’ve charged me with two counts of felony, one for terroristic threats and one for assault.”

My heart sank along with my glass of juice as it shattered on the floor.

What have they done to our children?

Never once did I hold it against him that there was a broken wrist that happened in the process of my being thrown against a wall several times, as my hoodie was wrapped around my head. Although I was hurled across the dark kitchen in our home at nearly 2 am, not once did I hold him in contempt or even fear at the point where I spun around to look into his eyes and say “what are you doing”, to see the empty eyes as he was mumbling about women and children. Not once did I blame him or myself. My only thoughts at the time were that he has already lived through so much – will he live through the repercussions of this? And, how much worse will it make things for him? Will I live through this? It dawned on me at that moment that nothing would ever be the same again, for my son, my family or myself. I was only beginning to grasp the fact that the world as we had known it was gone. The only fear I had at this point became a dread for what would now come in the future, as lives turned from an innocence we would never know again.

It changed my life forever.

NeWP Marathon in Dundee

June 3, 2017

Doppler Effect –

By Kate Brooke

Church bells ring as we climb to the memorial, and I wonder when the last bell was struck and how long before that sound reached us. I know when I return home I can look it up, or probably several of these teachers could fill me in, but now I am reminded of that drive along a hot freeway when I was new to Nebraska, windows open, and a meadowlark cast a bucketful of notes into my lap and like a diva after her gala my arms could not hold all of those roses, and then I heard wind and road noise from hot tires and already the lark was far behind me.

Later days of spring - Holding space for us to see - People places pen.
Sun on these benches - History exploded here - We sit in the shade.
Collecting bumpers - The spring breeze remembers wars - Truman blessed this spot.
Later days of spring - Holding space for us to see - People places pen
Journey through the streets - Old places and new people emerging - Form structure use.
No cut trees grew light - Scattered thousands of small leaves - Across the many hoods of caps.
We dashed in - There was no line - We succumbed
Live it before it's gone!


Kate Brooke

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