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Unmarked Crossings: a poet and her journeys

Day 3, Orcas Island Residency

I spent yesterday afternoon at my window in the library, getting into some writing. Although my project ECHO is mostly completed, there are a couple of poems that have eluded me. One in particular has haunted me since I began this project. The Our Lady of the Angels fire occurred in December 1958. The Chicago Catholic school became engulfed in flames and smoke, killing ninety-two students and three nuns. Many of the children were untouched by flame, but still sat at their desks as rescuers reached them, killed by toxic smoke and fumes. The image that, literally, burned itself into my memory as a nine-year-old is that of a girl in a black and white school uniform standing in a window, ready to jump or be rescued.

I’m not even sure that particular photograph or newsreel ever existed. Perhaps it is a compilation of other photos and films of the event. In any case, the whole incident affected me deeply as a child, which is perhaps why it is so difficult for me to write about now. But I persevere, making notes, reading yet another account of the event, or watching once again one of the several You Tube videos of newsreels taken at the time of the horrific fire.

The other poem that is unwritten, but tugs at me to be written, is the story of the one nursing student who escaped the murderous killer, Richard Speck. Speck brutally murdered eight nursing students in Chicago on July 13, 1966 (coincidentally, the same day I met my first husband). Apparently, he had staked out the apartment and knew there were eight women living there. What he didn’t know is that a ninth young woman was spending the night there with a friend. One of the women was able to roll under a bed and escape detection by Speck, all the while witnessing some of the carnage. Again, I can’t say why this event affected me so much, but it has. Perhaps it is because it happened in my home state of Illinois or maybe because the young women were only a few years older than me. Regardless of the reason, I can’t feel as if I’m finished my project until these two poems (and perhaps one more) are written.

So, between catching up with students via email and going back over notes for the OLA fire, yesterday was spent in a comfy arm chair beside the window, with a crimson knit afghan over my knees. By the time 6:00 rolled around, I was ready to join the other residents and Charles, the proprietor, for a dinner at Doe Bay, about half an hour away. The menu was quite interesting—fresh seafood, some Asian noodle dish, a “beggar’s bag” with “foraged” mushrooms, and some delicious-sounding soups and salads. Oh, and the rosemary flat bread with roasted red pepper spread were to die for.

I ordered a cup of an ancho chili with tortilla strips for an appetizer, and Kate shared her huge “massaged” (seriously, it was massaged) kale salad with apples, walnuts, and bleu cheese. Several people had ordered club soda with Bitters, but I decided on something ginger: a “Dark and Stormy.” My main course was FRESH halibut with black rice cake, baby carrots (I think these were premature to be honest, they were so very tiny), and other scrumptious veggies and sauce. Everything was delicious, and my main course was plentiful enough that I brought back enough for lunch today.

By the time we arrived back at Kangaroo House (through the unexpected snow that had fallen) everyone was sated and weary. So, by 9:30 p.m. I was turning off the lights in the downstairs and making my way to my canopied bed in the Nuthatch Room. I read for a bit (a sort of fluffy novel about the publishing industry), then drifted off to sleep for a mere ten hours, waking up to the delicious smell of baked goods wafting up to my room. A great cup of coffee, juice, granola, and what I'm told are "walnut bites" (delish!), I'm ready for another day of writing. I may even venture out today, as it is not snowing and the ubiquitous Northwest rain is a mere drizzle.

In any case, more and better later...
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