A story of love and loss from Indonesia


“A filthy drinking glass, used toothbrush, and crumpled tube of toothpaste lay on top of a simple cement capstone, their ordinariness heartrendingly poignant. I lit candles I had tucked into my pack earlier that morning, said a prayer, and remained by the graveside for several minutes longer, swatting mosquitos, racking my brain, trying to understand her choices.

How does a mother allow her child to disintegrate before her eyes?”

This excerpt, from my recently published essay “Photocopy” in the Spring 2018 issue of Sky Island Journal embodies one of the hardest stories I have ever tried to tell.

The true-to-life story comes from the years I lived, on-and-off, with my adopted tribe, the Tado. Like most extended families, ours is a complicated relationship, with a tremendous range of emotions that flame and flex and flame again.

When I first began workshopping this story in 2008 at the Grub Street Writing Center in Boston, it proved one of the more difficult pieces for me to write, and equally difficult for others to read. Ten years later, I’ve finally found the words, and a home, for an experience that continues to haunt me, with no easy answers. Writing and re-writing this story has deepened my empathy, and my conviction that if we remain silent about unpalatable truths, how can we ever grow, both as individuals and as a people?

Sky Island Journal is one of those amazing literary journals that choses to make all of its content FREE and open access: you can click through each of their issues to date, and download poetry, flash fiction, and creative non-fiction works in bite-size pieces (<1000 words) from throughout the United States and the world.

Sky Island Journal_Issue 4_CoverIssue #4 contains a tremendous diversity of poetry and prose to explore. My favorite poems include “Flying Fox” by Alison Thompson (Australia) and  “Joan of Arc Goes to the Gym” by Jarred Thompson (South Africa).

I encourage folks to spend some time reading and digesting the material, and sharing the pieces that most intrigued or moved you with someone else: let’s keep the power of the written word alive, and the conversation going.

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