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Shelly Blankman lives in Columbia, Maryland, where she and her husband have filled their empty nest with three rescue cats and a foster dog. Their sons, Richard and Joshua, live in New York and Texas respectively. Following careers in journalism, public relations, and copy editing, Shelly now spends time writing poetry, scrapbooking and making cards. Her poetry has appeared in the Ekphrastic Review, Poetry Super Highway, and Halfway Down the Stairs, among other publications. Richard and Joshua surprised her by publishing her first book of poetry, Pumpkinhead.


Just didn’t seem fair as a kid.

An adult head on a small body.

I was teased in the classroom,

pushed in the halls, jeers of

Pumpkinhead echoed against

the chambers of locker-lined

hallways. I’d sob in the bathroom

stall, wishing my life away, wondering

why my head couldn’t be smaller, why

I couldn’t be paper-doll pretty. The sun

never eclipsed the shadows of memory.

Not through college or graduate school,

not through marriage or kids. Not until

that day at the fair. Mermaids and

magicians, fairies and witches, a

fantasy world in the woods, children

with painted faces and fists stained with

rainbowed popcorn and cotton candy

frolicking among bubbles and butterflies

with glittery wings and a 7-foot man

on stilts, weaving his way through the crowds.

And on a bench, a child, her eyes

downcast, shoulders stooped. Honey-

blonde hair, paper-doll pretty. What tears

could she be swallowing? I held back

my own as I walked past her. I love

your hair! She looked at me, smiled.

I offered her popcorn, bunched in

a wrapper in my hand. No thank you,

she said meekly. I wished her a good

day and walked away. A few moments

later, I saw her whisper to her mom and

dash over to a vendor to buy some popcorn.

After all those years, all those tears, I’d

found a purpose to being a Pumpkinhead.



I swaddled you in dreams from birth,

of health and happiness, of

honeysuckle days and lightning bug nights,

maybe someday a student at Duke or Yale.

For now, your frame too tiny for

the massive canvas of colors

that would paint your life.

Cruising and crawling melted

into days of dangling from

paper-thin twigs on wintering trees.

But by the first snowflake, your boots

lay clean at your bedroom door

while you lay in bed for weeks with fever.

An illness we did not understand robbed you

of playground days of t-ball and baseball,

biking and tennis.

Your sweet childhood was now your Everest,

with every crag and crevice a boulder,

every step like quicksand,

the peak poking through greying clouds

like a beckoning finger, your damaged

spirit, a relentless ocean storm.

You didn’t know the hardest part of climbing

was never reaching the top. Not really.

It was the sides.

It was always the sides.



I remember the times

I’d settle in bed, a book

in my hands, blanketed

by the sweet silence of

night that would whisk

me away from the

stresses of day and my

eyelids would droop like

drapes as I gently slipped

into sleep, but that was before

our plush lump of a beast, our

cat, white as an unblemished field

of snow, with the low steady rumble

of distant thunder, the om of a

muddied day... my book, his pillow,

each new page, his dominion marked

with the whoosh of his full furry tail.

His nightly soundtrack of purrs drowning

my own efforts to read, my fingers

pushing his paws gently to reveal

words, his paws dancing with my fingers

in this shadowed tango of wills.

Two missions at bay, mine to read, his

to rest or play, that merged over time, but

only because I grew weary of trying to win.

Our cat’s gone now.

No flying fur, no purring

to distract me, no paws

to cause me to lose my place.

Just my book and I.

Just my book and I.



Through the lens of a child, I can still see my aunt’s

ruby lips pursed to plant a wet kiss on my cheek, her

long, shiny red nails pinching my chin to keep me from

flinching. I hear the sizzling roast, my rumbling tummy,

young cousins whining for food, offered water until

dinner was ready. And the children’s table, wobbly

chairs too big for the toddlers, too small for the teens,

our cross-table talk drowned by adult chatter rattling

like a dentist’s drill. Assault on the senses paired with

every holiday. How I tried to stay awake through those

post-dinner tired tales of Dad trudging two miles to school

through five feet of of snow, or the time he almost choked

on paper. Now, through an adult’s lens, those times are

nothing more than the soundtrack of youth. Dad’s gone,

my aunt, too. Cousins live coast to coast, while at home,

our forks clink against dishes in the silence of empty chairs.

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