Saturday, 15 December 2018
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Valley Muses literary pages are curated and edited by Elissa Cottle of Stillwater, master of fine arts in writing. She teaches Creating a Writing Life, a class for adults to write memoir, fiction or poetry at ArtReach St. Croix in Stillwater. Some Valley Muses writers are her students. The winter 2019 class will be held 7 p.m. Thursdays, Jan. 10 to March 7.

Cottle also is a professional writer and editor for businesses, organizations and individual creative writers. For more information or for class registration, visit

Submission guidelines

If you would like your writing to be considered for the winter 2019 Valley Muses page, please email your submission by Jan. 14 to

Send one or two pages of poetry, fiction, essay or memoir. Include your first and last name, your city or town of residence, and one or two sentences describing your occupation and or interests. Also include your phone number, which will not be published. The winter literary page will be published Jan. 25.

True Diamond


Judging your self-worth

Cardinal pecks the window

Raging at that bird

Unconsciously loop

Slogging around the mud bog

Backpack of self-hate

March through the middle

Dumping false inheritance

Unpack, then disown

Discover your truth

Natural-formed carbon rock

Your diamond self

Peggy Hanson is a licensed marriage and family therapist practicing in Woodbury, and believes this poem captures the therapy process. She enjoys hiking, biking, running, knitting and writing. She lives in Stillwater with her husband, an old dog, and a young cat.

Martin and Pearl


Martin Bentley was clearly an introvert with interests that were small and controllable. He was prone to both social and generalized anxiety. He was meticulous, responsible to a fault, and held a strong capacity for commitment and loyalty. Martin feared spiders, heights, flying, and had never been on an airplane. Spontaneity was not programmed into a single firing neuron in his brain. If his entire home, save his hearth, was destroyed by man’s hand or natural causes, he would carefully and methodically place a level on the mantel to be certain that it had remained stable and intact. His ability to fix things was integral to his identity as a man.

If Martin were asked to name, in order of priority, the three things that meant the most to him, he would answer without hesitation or apology, “My wife, my boat, and my dog.” He was thorough; he paid his bills on time. He was fastidious about his food. He would fasten squares of paper by the furnace and on the dashboard to document recent filter or oil changes. Unexpected surprises were never welcomed with delight and his wife, Pearl, would call him on his way home from work to report if some unwitting guest had parked in his spot so he could prepare himself for an alternate plan. His greatest source of joy, beyond Pearl, was to pull his boat to the lake and fish in solitude and silence—away from any human interaction. There, he reined supreme in his silent, holy water. He waited on no one, answered to no one, and there were few surprises.

For 30 years, six days a week, he systematically and efficiently stocked frozen foods; placing boxes and packages in precisely measured distances and in order of expiration dates. Years of hearing canned music had qualified him to answer nearly any question about any song ever played in any grocery store, elevator, or dental office. He had evolved through stages of annoyance as he was subjected to someone else’s musical preferences. At some point, his angst grew into a resigned, involuntary addiction to the background noise. The noise was similar to the anesthetizing drone of a fan which ultimately renders its victims unconscious.

After a 45-minute commute from work, Martin signaled to turn into his own driveway. Annoyance swelled as he impatiently waited for one, two, three, four, and finally five drivers to pass on his left before he could pull in, as if it were an intentional affront to delay his arrival home. A quick glance at his wife’s vehicle assured him of adequate tire pressure. He made a mental note to check the oil later. It was Tuesday, garbage day, and he dragged the bulky, empty container back to its designated corner by the garage. Grabbing the mail as he pushed open the front door, his familiar routine ensued. The dog, jumping and wagging his tail profusely, was let out the side door to the back yard. He checked the thermostat and scanned the immediate area for any unnecessary uses of electricity. The only exception was his radio. Despite more modern electronic music options, he still preferred a classic tabletop radio with simple controls, accurate sound, and precise tuning. He needed command over the background music in his own domain.

Satisfied that his kingdom was in order, he let Chester back in, rewarding him with an anticipated treat and proceeded to read his mail in the bathroom which Pearl affectionately called his “office.” Technically, Pearl had named the dog Poor Chester out of pity for his pronounced underbite in addition to profound emotional deficits which manifested in a fear of all quickly moving objects, loud noises, and anything resembling a vacuum cleaner. He darted to his kennel at the hint of any of the above demonstrations.

After exactly 20 minutes, Martin emerged from his office, sorted mail in hand. The radio, clear and finely tuned, was chirping cheerfully in the kitchen, and the scent of food drifted down the hallway. Pearl was cooking supper.

“Oh, it’s Pooh,” Martin spoke kindly, as though surprised by her presence at the stove; he greeted her with the same endearment he always had. To be called Pearl would have sounded strange to her. Tonight may have seemed ordinary to Martin but Pearl was determined. She would discuss her plan and this time, he had to see it her way. Pearl was well acquainted with what Martin liked and disliked and this evening would be no different. Spaghetti sauce simmered on the stove consisting of pureed tomatoes—never chunky, fresh mushrooms—not canned, finely chopped green pepper, no onions, a touch of cayenne pepper, and a sparse sprinkle of sliced black olives. The noodles were delicate angel hair—thick would never do. The Parmesan cheese was grated—not shredded. Spaghetti was never served too hot.

The conversation was typical—at first. Pearl related the interactions of her busy day in her melodious voice that flowed generously like a magnanimous fountain in the midst of Martin’s otherwise meaningless daily exchanges. The words were not distinct, merely soothing waves that enveloped him. Some men would be annoyed at the liquid narration but not Martin. It relaxed him and eliminated any pressure to interject significant comments and assured him that all was well in Pearl’s world and there was nothing presently broken that he would need to fix. If Pooh was happy, he was happy. It was a comfortable, symbiotic blend of two companions, like breathing in and out.

Regretfully for Martin, the expected course of conversation took an unpleasant detour. Pearl wanted them to fly to California to visit her cousin Vive.

“It’s not the flying that scares me,” he would always say. “It’s the airport, the parking, the baggage and all the other unforeseen problems.”

“But you know Vive may not live much longer. We have to do this, Martin.”

Martin could feel his face flush, the heat growing in intensity as he rose in one fluid motion from his chair like King Neptune arising from his aquatic throne. “I’m not changing my mind! This is not going to happen!” With a defiant set of his chin, he retreated to the bedroom and slammed the door like an exclamation point. Chester ran for his kennel.

Pearl sat for a moment, deliberating. How would she coax him back out? If only she could get him to talk things through. She could ease his anxiety, form a plan—they could work it out together. Boldly, she reached for the radio volume knob and turned it up to the level that could be unquestionably heard in the bedroom. Ever so slowly, she rotated the tuner beyond the station until she was satisfied with the irritating shiver of rasping static that pulsed through the air. She began counting backward from 10, nine, eight, seven, six, five…the bedroom door reluctantly opened. Martin had to fix that tuner.

Mary Kadela of Oak Park Heights is a writer and works with pre-schoolers. She loves gardening, calligraphy, and spending time with family.


“Look, its Bob Dylan!” he yells too close to my face.

Trying hard not to flinch, I keep playing my guitar, standing on a downtown Seattle sidewalk. His buddy laughs and takes a long drink from the bag he’s holding.

“Leave him alone. He’s nobody.”

“Nice guitar though,” the first drunk says. “At least he’s got that going for him.”

Then like the current that threw them ashore, off they went. Back into the river of people they swam out of.

It’s a busy but clear day on the street. The weather helps everyone’s disposition, and the anonymity of the crowd helps me slip into a place I think is workable. My guitar case is open and I am singing “Tupelo Honey” by Van Morrison like an old friend I have played for years—“…You can’t stop us ‘cause our eyes can see…”

“Hey!” an old man yells as he walks by. “You need seed money in there. Nobody likes to be first.” He keeps walking and never looks back.

The guy is right. I have some change in my bag. But for now, I just need to not stop. “Keep playing,” I nervously tell myself.

A mother and her young son stop to listen. Actually, they stop to lick their huge ice cream cones in the shade of an awning, outside the restaurant where I have set myself up to beg. Something I never thought I’d be doing.

I learn later that, technically, I wasn’t a beggar. I was a “busker,” who are considered street performers paid by “gratuities,” an honorable, artistic endeavor that makes daily street life more enjoyable. But to me, I was begging. If I wasn’t hungry it might feel like I’m making an artistic contribution.

The mother and son are standing about four feet in front of me, creating a break that the pedestrian current flowed around, instead of crossing between us. It’s nice to have them here, a spark of encouragement I badly need. They quietly watch me play a simple song of my own, something like “Why Me Lord” by Kris Kristofferson, a song he could have written after busking on a street like this long ago.

When I finish the song, they both clap and smile. The mother gives the boy a quarter that he puts in my guitar case. I thank him and return the smile. Then the pleasant bubble pops as he takes his mother’s hand and they drift back into the crowd. I hate this, but I force myself to keep going.

At first I don’t notice a guy who is dumping pot from a Ziploc bag into my guitar case. He apologizes for not having a separate bag in which to enclose his donation. It doesn’t exactly fit my business revenue projections, but I appreciate the gesture. He means well. Only problem is that it took months before I was able to get it all out of the fuzzy lining in my case.

But now I have a little more momentum. Maybe this is going to work. Maybe my anxiety will turn into the energy to make me an entertainer, a legend.

Suddenly the two drunks show up again. Apparently the harmonica I’m playing, on one of my own songs, gets their attention. Harmonicas seem to trigger a Bob Dylan reference. Too bad these guys are back again when I’m playing a song I wrote that means more to me than most. It’s a song about me, young, vulnerable, too far from home.

Now my momentum is gone. I’m just a boy on the banks of a beautiful but dark, wide and changing river. Maybe things would be different if I didn’t keep falling in love with every waitress I meet. Maybe if my dad hadn’t died last year. Maybe if I hadn’t tried to drink my way through school. Maybe.

This whole street-musician thing made so much sense when I quit college, and my job at Northwestern Bell where my dad had worked, sold my pickup and bought a one-way train ticket from Iowa to Medford, Oregon. Now, almost a year later, I’m broke and spilling my guts out in Seattle’s Pike Place Market.

I pack up my guitar and walk away. Climbing the steep hill above the bay, I’m alone with myself. A failed busker. Too far from the people that I never gave a chance, including myself. Not only is it time to go; it’s time to change.

Emmett Carolan lives with his wife in Stillwater and they have two grown kids with families. He enjoys creative writing and reading U.S. history. After his debut on the streets of Seattle, he eventually started a couple of bands, and went back to school, earning a master’s degree. He may pick up singing and songwriting again.


The Bark Box

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