The “Rewrite Man,” Someone Reporters Loved To Hate

An Essay by Donal Mahoney

Being a “rewrite man” on a newspaper was a terrific job back in the Sixties if you liked “improving” other people’s work more than writing your own copy.

The rewrite man was like a midwife between the reporter who wrote the first draft and the editor who would say it was ready to be set in type. I don’t know that such a job still exists today. But reporters did not like the rewrite man unless they were phoning in a story and had no way to write it themselves in a world before computers.

No one wants his or her copy changed even it needs surgery desperately. My wife was a reporter but I was always an editor. I never cared what anyone said and I still don’t. I only cared how they said it.

Even an obituary should have a touch of music, a polka for a Pole, a hornpipe for an Irishman.


An Image by Isabelle Eberhardt

Nomad I was already when, as a little girl, I dreamed, watching the road, the alluring white road that left beneath a sun that seemed even brighter, straight toward the captivating unknown.

Nomad I will stay all my life, in love with changing horizons.

–Writings From the Sand, Volume One

Beauty of Seeds

A Prose Piece by Nayeli Guzman as told to Beverly Bell

Damn, I should have brought my beans! I wanted to show you my collection. One of my favorites is called powami, a Hopi ceremonial bean. There’s a really beautiful one called Maine Yellow Eye, which is all white and right at the part where the bean sprouts, there’s a little yellow moon on there. There’s another one called Provider. When you put it against the sun, it looks like an oil spill from your car. Man, those beans are so beautiful.

We cooked some red Mexican beans for the harvest festival, and everyone loved them.

It’s always good to be able to give food. It’s the best, dude. We don’t think of what we’re producing in terms of money, but just in terms of health and food for our families.

Farming was in my prayers for a long time. This land is my teacher; it’s my altar. It’s at the heart of my culture. We’ve always done that. We’ve strayed so far from it that I feel we have to go back, no matter where we come from. I’m just being responsible to the struggles my ancestors went through. They fought for tierra y libertad, which means land and liberty. In fact, we’re still going through that struggle today, with our food and even our genes being colonized.

Memorial Day

An Essay by Howard Brown

Memorial Day is not Veteran’s Day. Veteran’s Day honors all of the individuals in the military who are still alive, but Memorial Day is much more than that—it honors all of those who gave their life for their nation. Every nation has a kind of Memorial Day—not every nation has a Veteran’s Day.

On this day no matter where you live, we need to put away the beer and the ribs and whatever we are cooking, we need to stop with the festive parades and the loud get togethers, we need to cease with the sales in the stores, we need to realize it is not just another holiday exempting us from work and/or school.

This is the day we bow are heads to remember everyone who has given their life to keep our nation free and great—everyone: the firemen of 9/11, the police who fell in the line of duty, the teachers who died protecting the safety of their students, the civil rights workers from the 1800’s and the decades before and during the Civil Rights Movement, the students fighting for democracy (the students murdered at Kent State, for example), the protesters who laid their lives on the line protesting against the nation’s wrongs in order to make the nation right, the soldiers and nurses and doctors, the marines and the civilians who supported them, members of the Army and the Navy and the Air Force.

During Memorial Day, take five minutes—no, make it ten to fifteen, even an hour—and find the time to pray or meditate in order to remember everyone who died trying to make this country—or any nation in the world for that matter—great. Honor the political prisoners who died trying to bring positive change, honor the individuals who put their lives on the line for the greater moral good, honor all of the people who understood they had a life to give and it was an honor to give it because their life is what helped shape this country—and many others—into the safe and free place it is today.

Memorial Day is that day—the day for firemen, police, teachers, activists, civil rights workers, nurses, all of the men and women in the armed forces and many others who gave their lives so all of us could live better. This is the day to remember them; this is the day to honor them. This is what Memorial Day means.

Kaleidoscope and Harpsichord: How A Story Came To Be

A Prose Piece by Donal Mahoney

There are only two things that are true in “Kaleidoscope and Harpsichord,” the story that appeared on this site yesterday. One is the encouragement my wife gave me to start writing again in 2008 after I had not done so for 35 years. Demanding jobs, mostly as an editor of other people’s copy, left me without energy to work on poems. My wife even bought me a computer when I retired and showed me where my cardboard boxes full of unfinished poems had been lying dusty in storage for so many years. But more importantly, the other true thing is that she said that reading a poem I gave her was like “looking through a kaleidoscope while listening to harpsichord.”

That phrase became embedded in my mind and would not leave so I had to write something to go with it. That is how I work. I hear a phrase or word I like and I have to write something before, around and after it. I have to give it a home. I cannot let it remain an orphan so I manufacture a poem or a story or an essay to use the phrase or word I like.

I was that way back in the 60s when I was a pup. I would jot the phrase or word on a napkin in some midnight diner and put it in my pocket. Weeks later I’d find it and I’d start writing a piece around the phrase or word. I doubt that many writers of fiction or poetry work this way. But it’s always been that way for me. I never know where the phrase will lead me and sometimes that’s fun and other times terribly difficult. Because once I get into a poem or story I forget about the phrase or word that inseminated it and I care only about finishing the piece.

Let me finish with an example. For at least 40 years I have loved the word “ukulele” because of the way it sounds and the way it’s spelled. Most people spell the word incorrectly–i.e., “ukelele.” Anyone who has labored on a copy desk loves to catch a word like that. But how often, since the death of Arthur Godfrey, does the work “ukulele” appear in print. Not often. So think of my predicament. What kind of poem would house “ukulele” well? And I am just too tired–so far–to think up a story about a “ukulele” but I suppose in the pantry of my mind I’m still looking for the right ingredients. Pray that I find them before I die and my wife takes me to the taxidermist because that’s where I told her I want to go instead of the local mortician. I told her that one day in semi-jest and it led to this poem.

Take Me to the Taxidermist

I told my wife the other night
when she came back to bed
my feet were cold so now’s
the time for me to tell her
not to bury me or burn me
or give my body to science.

Take me to the taxidermist
and have him dress me in
Cary Grant’s tuxedo, a pair
of paten leather shoes
from Fred Astaire and a
straw hat from Chevalier.

Once I’m a Hollywood star,
stand me in the garden with
that chorus line of blondes,
brunettes and redheads
I stationed there the day she
flew home to Mother in a snit.

Years later now, my dancers still
kick high enough to lance the sun.
I plan to hold a last rehearsal
once my wife motors into town
and finds a priest who’ll say
a thousand Masses for my soul.

Kaleidoscope and Harpsichord

A Poetic Prose piece by Donal Mahoney

As I’ve told my wife too many times, the meaning of any poem hides in the marriage of cadence and sound. Vowels on a carousel, consonants on a calliope, whistles and bells, we need them all if a poem is to tickle our ears. Otherwise, the lines are gristle and fat, no meat.

Is it any wonder, then, my wife has had a problem, for decades now, with any poem I’ve given her to read for a second opinion. This is especially true when we both know the poem has no message and I simply want to hear the music, assuming there is some. Miles Davis made a living doing the same thing in jazz clubs. Why can’t I have a little fun and give it a try even if my instrument is words?

The other night in bed I gave my wife my latest poem to read. I said it was fetal, not final. Afterward she said that reading this poem was no different than reading all the others I had given her over the years. She had thought I’d improve by now. Maybe I should switch to fiction or the essay, she suggested, or else stick with editing the manuscripts of others since I had made a decent living as an editor for many years.

“You’ve been writing poetry for decades,” she said, “but reading a poem like this is like looking through a kaleidoscope while listening to a harpsichord.”

Point well taken, I thought, point well said. The nuns for whom I toiled all those years in grammar school would have liked my wife. They might have even recruited her to join their order.

Then I asked her what a man should do if he has careened for years through the caves of his mind spelunking for the right line for a poem only to hear his wife say that reading his poem was like “looking through kaleidoscope while listening to a harpsichord.”

Should I quit writing? Start drinking? After all I quit drinking when I started writing and I discovered that the hangovers from both were equally debilitating.

The following morning she said, “You should never quit writing.”

At that moment, she was enthroned at the kitchen table, as regal as ever in her fluttery gown and buttering her English muffin with long, languorous strokes Van Gogh would envy.

“You should write even more,” she said, “all day and all night, if need be. After all, my line about the ‘kaleidoscope and harpsichord’ needs a poem of its own. It’s all meat, no gristle, no fat.”


A Poem by Michael H. Brownstein

If the tree between buildings breathed
Animosity among its leaves.
If skin color were different kinds of air.
If photosynthesis contracted itself
Through song. Why does the mudslide cover
That river and not the one nearby?
How does a fish breathe on land
And a human underwater?
In the exchange of gases, what is a tree?