Writers Respond to "Tell Me a Story"

The art works on exhibit in “Tell Me a Story” are of various styles and mediums that all lead the viewer toward a story. Emerge Gallery welcomes creative writers to visit the gallery during the exhibition — or view the work on-line at www.emergegalleryny.com — connect with a piece of art, and finish the narrative that the artists began in their work. Poetry, stories and personal essays are welcome.

Writers have been responding. Enjoy reading the work!

The Girl and the Cardinal

© Maxine Davidowitz

Oil on canvas, 36" x 36"

Writer © Carolyn Marosy responded to Maxine's work with her poem:

The Girl and the Cardinal

She couldn’t have been more than 7 years old when she mastered the vacant stare. It was as if she could become transparent, almost bleeding into the scenery. The unsureity of whether or not she was even still listening hung in the air, like a single frame chosen from a super 8 film strip. She was unusually thin, with limbs like branches and long brown hair; a perfect nest for creatures who are lucky enough to find her fallen strands.

Behind her eyes she had a fire. You could see it in her smile too, but she was quick to fall back into her vacant stare when a certain tone of voice turned sour. Her mother would yell at her, usually for nothing more than being “in the way”. It was a shrill, caustic barrage of sarcasm that the little girl endured, day after day. “Why don’t you go put your head in an oven,” she would say to the little girl. “Eating? Again. You’re already too fat”. The little girl would stop what she was doing, and fall into her blank stare, expressionless.

She was standing in the yard when a bright red cardinal flew over the little girl’s shoulder, and emerged through a large, open window in the kitchen. The little girl saw it and she got very excited. As she jumped up and down, she made a mad dash for the kitchen door. She sprung it open, exclaiming “Mommy, he has come for me! He has come for me!” Her mother barked at her, “get the broom! Get the broom!” “No mommy!” and she began to cry.

The bird did not seem confused or frightened as it made it’s way around the cacophany of wares. The kitchen was littered with magazines, schoolbooks, pencils, empty, and, unopened wine bottles. If something needed to be found, surely it is lost here.

Amongst the calamity, the little girls book bag lay on the table. The beautiful bird, with it’s red wings afflutter, landed on upon it. He preened his back for just a moment- a split second, and upon take off, he dropped a thin, red feather. Her mother barked again. “Did you let this bird in?” Her brother came in from the other room, “If she has a bird, I want a dog!” he exclaimed.

“You get out of my kitchen, you little bastard!”, she screetched and raised the broom. By design or by chance, the bird escaped peril, and found the open window. Out he flew. The boy stood watching, confused.

The little girl grabbed the feather and ran into her room. She closed the door, sat on the side of the bed. She held the feather to her heart, closed her eyes and said these words:

I am not a bird, but I will fly. I will make wings out of the tears I cry. I will always remember this day. And some day, I will find my way.

© Carolyn A. Marosy

Poet © Michelle DeCicco responded to Maxine's work with her poem:

The Girl and the Cardinal

once upon a time i was a little girl always gawky clumsy and too skinny people would tease that they could see through me i was eager to escape my hurtful and selfish mother who wouldn’t hug her daughters or say i love you to us we were all mistakes in her head she would say “i got pregnant because i loved the attention - i never wanted them after their birth!” my godmother’s home was a refuge she was a sweet and nurturing soul who protected me spoke to me with kind words taught me all she knew shared her love of gardening and cardinals i told her one day while we were in her garden picking peas, that i wished i could live in a secret garden near her house it would have a magical wooden door that would only reveal itself to her, my sisters, and my dad no one else would find me my own sanctuary with many trees surrounding it soft pretty grass a pond for swimming and ice skating only cardinals would exist there they would keep the magic from my ancestors alive she gently told me that i couldn’t live in a secret garden but whenever i visited her i could play in her garden and i would always be safe with her because she would never stop loving me.

Who Will Remember Me © Leah Brown Klein Collage Poet © Gay Leonhardt responded to Leah's work with her poem: In a hundred years you will be a name with dates in some genealogy. Within the book of a brain: all that text of the story that you tell yourself, day after day. It’s a very boring story. It’s a dead conversation.

Adrift At Sea © Andrea Walcutt Perez Mixed media Poet © Arabella Colton responded to Andrea's work with her haiku:

The Polar Bear

The thin polar bear Surrounded by blue-green sea. The ice is melting.

a fish tale © jd weiss Medium format film, 18" x 18" Poet © Arabella Colton responded to jd's work with her haiku:

Fish Woman Love

She stands by the sea

Cradling the fish in her arms.

Brought by the waves. Love!

Poet © Michelle DeCicco responded to jd's work with her poem:

a fish tale

hundreds of years ago a great storm with dark clouds taking over the entire sky the rain came with such force that it hurt my skin the winds were so strong that it bent trees in half and tore apart our homes it lasted for many nights and days the ocean’s waves swelled as each day passed we began to lose hope we worried if it would ever cease before we perished the people in my village came to me and asked if i could get help to stop the storm they knew i was half mermaid i agreed to try i called out to a passing fish he swam to me i reached out and picked him up cradled him in my arms and spoke softly to him he went to poseidon and begged for help poseidon agreed to stop the storm but i would have to make the sea my forever home, yes I shall embrace this new life in order to save many.

Jewish Drama Queen © Suzanne Parker Mixed media on repurposed wood Poet © Sari Grandstaff responded to Suzanne's work with her poem: I fingered the beads like a mala. Stranded in my own thoughts, gazing upward, ever upward, never one to be a navel gazer plus that gives you those unattractive chin wrinkles. It is just so damn hard to decide even though I am not a Libra like my sister is. Really such a tragedy how they closed that little place we used to love going to… so now where, oh where, should we make the dinner reservations?

Poet © gwynneth green also responded to Suzanne's work with her poem:

jewish drama queen


that’s my grandmother

a photo from the 1920’s

she was a Ziegfeld girl

that was way before your time

before mine


they were famous

you know

at least that is what i was told

a dance troupe

and i understand nudity

was part of the act

happened way back then

so did drugs

drinking and

cigarette holders

making the girls look so classy

the gay guys

in the dressing room

helped them change

their elaborate costumes

between every act

then back to parade on stage

with an air of sophistication

shocking to think

grandma was part of all that


so very strict

with what we said and did

who would have guessed

she had a wild side

this is fact


put on your favorite dancing shoes

for you

are clearly a close resemblance

to great great granny

my dear

Solitary Man © Ken Tannenbaum Photography Poet © Sari Grandstaff responded to Ken's work with her poem:

A Solitary Man Yes, I admit it, I wanted my own drawer

but not like this, never like this!

The police will never believe

that I didn’t do it

not when they find my pink toothbrush

in one of the holes of the toothbrush holder.

I just wanted a couple of my own hangers

in the closet and my own drawer

so I wouldn’t have to cart around a nightgown

in my yoga mat bagand pretend I was going to yoga class

instead of to his apartment.

He was too compartmentalized

relegating our relationship to a weekend fling.

One drawer, was that too much to ask?

He was fastidious, I’ll give him that

pants always neatly pressed

That’s how they’ll find him

pebble grain leather shoes sticking out

of the tongue and groove dresser drawer

Artist © Barbara Bravo also responded to Ken's work with her poem:

The preposterous story of

A Solitary Man Finding His Safe Place

No one will ever think to look for me here.

No cares.

No worries.

No wants.

No needs.

Hidden away.

No one will ever think to look for me here.

Artist © Carol Flaitz responded to Ken's work with her observation:

My drawers are too tight.

Higher Ground © Lucinda Abra Encaustic, oil and collage on wood, 24" x 30" The artist responded to her work with the story:

Higher Ground: The Story

Papa must have gone out to collect the chicken eggs. That’s what Mama said when I scampered down the rough-hewn steps of the sleeping loft and wiped the dust from my eyes. It had only been a short time since we entered the place of the ancestors. Banditos had been trying to get Papa to sell drugs and guns, but he had refused. In retaliation, they burnt down our small groceria, and then killed his two sisters, my aunties, and my grandparents. All on the very same day. We didn’t get to go to their funerals; we didn’t get to even dress the dead, instead we fled, having entered upon a spell of tears.

My Papa had bushwhacked with mad determination, sure we could out chase death. He was all bent over, like a crooked stick, beating the vegetated earth into a submission of passage. Mama carried her two prized chickens, one under each arm. The sound of the clucking echoed strangely within such dense jungle growth. I was afraid that the bad men would hear their squawking but I kept my fears under my shoes. With each step I smashed panic into the ground, grinding it into a dark, murky dust lost in the sea of roots. Still I was relieved when Mama hung those noisy birds upside down. Then, they grew muted and fell into the deep slumber of the innocent.

It was so very humid. The waters of our poisoned streams had come along us. The thick air covered our skin, seeping through the damp clothing. I was afraid to breathe and despite the lengthy exertion, took in hesitant, shallow breaths. Some more unblemished children might worry that in swallowing a watermelon seed they might become pregnant. But me? I suspected that with just one wrong inhale the spirits of the slaughtered would enter, reducing my body to the same dissolved corruption as the many bodies we had witnessed floating in polluted streams and riverbeds.

Papa had sat down hard and mewled, having finally found the small trickle of pathway. Mama waved her numbed arms in joy, which woke the birds. They too recovered their own voices, joining the chorus of jubilation. Soon after, we found the small hidden hut, covered, as it was, in a thousand vines. My great grandfather had built it in a different time of troubles, when the army had turned against its population, suspecting many of being traitors in cahoots with revolution. The shelter had stood in waiting despite the pulsing life that squeezed around it, like many green snakes. It was a good thing to be so disguised. We only wished to be invisible and wait for the turmoil to end.

Within a short while we had our routine. But why was Papa dawdling? Mama went outside, after giving me a salted tortilla and offered what was her last smile. She found her mate lying so still in the early morning, that she tiptoed forward, thinking he had decided to take a siesta. The light was falling so softly though heart shaped leaves of a balsa tree; illumination fluttered over Papa’s torso. But he wasn’t sleeping anymore. Instead, a crimson O wept from under his widow’s peak. I peeked around from the half open doorway as Mama tried to shake him awake but it did no good. He had entered the land of the dead from which no one returns opaque with life.

An urraca, a type of magpie, called out in a scoffing laugh that joined with the crack of a rifle as Mama fell hard in a swoon, so much red blood pouring through her chest. I did not cry out but to my shame, hid tight against a long, grayed shadow. My heart struggled. There was no way for my sadness to escape hidden as it was under the twisted canopy of green snakes. I crossed myself once for their souls. Then I fled up the stairs and burrowed under the bedding. Only nine years old, but even a child knows when to run from a pack of hyenas.

The bad men crept through the shadows and discovered me crunched into the corner. Wrapped tightly under the blanket my grandmother had woven, I had hoped she would be my last secret talisman. Such a foolish child, my feeble wish was useless. There was no one left to protect me. My bed shirt soon lay aside as limp as my will as greedy hands tore through cloth and then ripped through my soft child flesh. One at a time, all ten of them feasted. Although it was so very hot, I shook as it were freezing. The sound of their laughter cascaded like rancid ice, filling me with a cold dread. Then, tossing me onto the floor, those same clenched fingers began to beat upon my bruised body, plummeting me into a small, broken thing. I tried to murmur for mercy but my words were stuck behind swollen lips and cracked teeth. Finally, when there was so little left of me, and they had grown bored and weary, one of the men, a big brawny one who smelled of sour sweat and rifle oil, picked me up and threw me through the upstairs opening. He thought to destroy me. To remove yet another witness to horror unbridled.

But he had failed as the merciless always do. Although my body lay crumpled and discarded as if it were mere cloth, my essence had flown above, far from the wrenching tragedy. From on high there was peace within this different perspective. As I soared upwards on newly grown wings, I saw in the distance millions upon millions who had found release from the inhumanity of mankind. Far off in the horizon, past the mountains, the gardens , the largest of the houses, and even the president’s palace there was the open pasture of a peaceful kingdom. With newly grown wings I stretched towards it. This was better than a land of the free; this was a place of spirit unbounded. I was headed home.

© Lucinda Abra 2018

Freedom © Cheryl Lickona Digital Collage, 12" x 12" Poet © Elena P. McLaughlin responded to Cheryl's work with her poem:

I felt on top of the world! A celebration! Ganesh safely escorting me That’s when I noticed, I was free

© Siouxzanne Harris also responded to Cheryl's work with her reflection:

Mulberry Street

Coffee in hand, I head to the car and set out early. It’s quiet and a little misty, Sun is low in the sky and traffic is minimal. I round the turn and the crossing warning lights come on, flashing brightly as the gates fall from vertical to horizontal. I pop the car in neutral to wait it out. I hear the rattling sounds, and scraping, and the whirring as the train speeds past me. Box cars with graffiti lumber by, then a few empty cars, then, the brightly colored cars of a circus train. It is warm and the doors are open revealing lions, and clowns, and costumes. I flash back to an animal crackers box. The cars zip by- then slow down, wheels clicking on the rails, until it comes to a complete stop. The morning mist settles and makes the scene dreamlike. After another moment or two I kill the engine. This could take a while. The people in the circus cars are restless and start climbing out of the doors and windows to see what is going on. Some of the animals are taken out for a walk. An elephant with a small girl on top walks by.

I hear a horn beep behind me and realize the train has gone and the gate has lifted. I start the car, put it in first gear and continue on my journey.

Visiting Day, 1985 © Al Desetta Oil and pencil on canvas, 30" x 40"

Poet © Robert P Langdon responded to Al's work with his poem:

Visiting Day

I never liked visiting day. Mom would take me with her to the “home.”

It was always cold and smelled of antiseptic. He never remembered

me — the one that his wife fought hard to live to see born

and once I was, she would let go.

He would stare at me, confused by how familiar I looked, then back to mom with a blank face while he listened to her updates

about people who had long fled his mind.

He would look at me again. Hard. Trying to figure out the connection.

The tips of his shock of white hair reaching for answers. Sometimes he would grab them and his eyes would get excited, but he would just as quickly lose his grasp and slip back to forgetting.

“Why do you still go to see him,” I ask mom on our way home.

“Because he’s my father,” she said wiping her tears. “And I want him to know that I’m visiting. And that he’s not alone.”

Years later mother would go through this again with her brother.

Holding his hand. Talking to fill the void. Recounting stories from childhood in the hopes that one would trigger a memory and the brother she loved would pop up for a mere second to say that everything was OK.

But sometimes I question if everything is OK. These days

I walk into a room and immediately forget why I’m there.

I talk to people I know that I know but can’t figure out how I know

them. Or a conversation drops out of my mind minutes after it’s been had.

I’m hoping these are signs of getting old. That they’re normal.

But if not …. Then I hope I don’t forget the music. No, not the music.

I’ll need something to focus on when the strangers come on visiting day.

Poet © gwynneth green also responded to Al's work with her poem: