My Son Visits to Wash the Dog, Maren Tirabassi

So, full disclosure, Maren Tirabassi is my mother. I am completely biased in her favor, and I won’t even pretend to be any other way. To make me even less impartial (as if that were possible) not only is she my mother, she’s also my writing partner; we’ve written five…or maybe six books together now (I probably should know that…), and we’re working on another due in December. She has published eighteen books all together, mostly through Pilgrim Press, but she also has a wonderful children’s book called Footlights and Fairy Dust, loosely based on my brother and I and our experiences growing up in the Colonial Theatre in Boston (which my father ran when I was young). This book, a collection of poems called My Son Visits to Wash the Dog, is one of her only self-published books, and my copy just arrived in the mail yesterday.

Biology lesson at the mammoth site

We look down at the bones
left twenty-six thousand years ago
by mammoths,
tempted by the green grass
around the sink hole
in the hot springs
that bubbled up through glacier.

Layer after layer of bones are here —
generation after generation,
of the unwary who ventured on
this crescent of delicious,
then fell into the pit
with its slippery sides.

“They weren’t,” said the guide,
(after pointing out that the tallest
modern-day elephants
could walk under the curl of their trunks)
“adapted for climbing.”

Then she went on to ask —
how many males and how many females
do we think had fallen in…

I joke, assume the sink hole victims
didn’t stop to ask directions
and suggest – “male?”

“Every single bone is from an
adolescent male.”

Then I imagine – all the beautiful boys,
tusks new and bright,
trumpeting each other on
to risky behaviors,
going to the very edge of things.

And even after he is trapped, each one sure –
“it will never happen to me.”
(pg 2)

I’d like to talk about why I feel justified discussing this book when a stack of others by unrelated authors gathers dust in my living room. It’s not just because she’s my mother, my biggest fan, and practically a saint (although all of those things are true). The real reason I want to highlight this tiny, beautiful chapbook is because I’ve noticed that many of the people who have started following me here in the last month are writers, and a surprising percentage are young writers.

Here’s the thing: being a writer, or hoping to be a writer, is a tough gig. It doesn’t pay well for the vast majority of us. It comes with a boat ton of rejection. It gets its kicks from whipping us around by the creative hair and it doesn’t care one bit when we end up bruised and bloody. Writing might make some of us a living, but mostly we’ll hold other jobs to get by. My mother is a minister, and she’s also a sought after speaker and workshop leader who always has gigs set up around the country to supplement the work she publishes. For the last ten years, she’s also been taking care of both her parents and her in-laws in compassionate but emotionally draining circumstances. On top of that, she enters writing contests every month (usually in poetry, short fiction, or fantasy), and she always tries to participate in National Novel Writing Month with me. She even writes a poem every week (and has been for over thirty years). She works her butt off, and even so, it’s a small percentage of her work that gains recognition.

I grew up in a home where this kind of effort was the norm, and I learned early that rejection is the price you sometimes have to pay in order to get to where you want to be as writer. This is not to say either of us like it. We don’t. We complain to each other about the contests we don’t win and the frustrating contracts that fall through. Sometimes the rejections come so fast and hard we just want to hunker down under a rock for a while until the storm has had a chance to die down. Of course, the flip side is that when a new book comes out, or we get that cherished email saying something we wrote months before has won a long sought-after prize, the jubilation lasts for weeks. It’s a fair trade-off. Or, well, not “fair” per se, but realistic.

My mother has spent years teaching, believing it’s possible for each of us to be a poet. She’s gone into classrooms and prisons (the jury is still out on which of those gigs was tougher). She spent a year as poet laureate, and both before and after that honor, she was an ardent supporter of the program. She goes to poetry beats to hear teenagers get up for the first time, and she holds writing workshops in her living room.

This is what it means to be a working writer. It’s what I aspire to and also fear. Being a writer means supporting others and listening to new voices and constantly searching out new opportunities to get your work out there. This is why I chose to spotlight my mother – she works ridiculously hard and produces so much beautiful work, but most importantly, she’s willing to get out there and be involved with other writers and with projects that might not ever have her name on them. My mother is a warrior for words, and I only wish I knew more writers like her.

Self-portrait in green

I can taste it.
I want to be standing there,
introducing one of my poems this way –
“this is for my home-boy,
Bram Stoker.”

You know how it is —
you hear some other poet’s words
that are so deft and so true,
that kiss the meaning
and describe the curbside of hell
or the full TSA body scan
to get into heaven
that is your life right now,

and you don’t just think –
wow, that’s it – that just hangs garlic
on what’s happening to me,

but you want to be the one.
You want, like the vampire all poets are,
to sink your teeth into it,
suck it dry.
You want them to find you in the dawn
the stake of that story
through your heart.
(pg 16)


Maren Tirabassi doesn’t have a website (although I keep telling her she should), but she’s Google-able and most of her books are available on Amazon. The chapbook reviewed above is only available at her readings or through me.

6 thoughts on “My Son Visits to Wash the Dog, Maren Tirabassi

  1. That struck me in a peculiar way . As a lecturer and writer I often struggle ( and teacher and.homemaker …)with lack of time and fatigue . Your words have set an example

    1. It does take a lot of work, but even a few sentences a day are better than nothing (and if you write three sentences a day for long enough, eventually, you’ll have a book!)

    1. Thank you! I do feel incredibly fortunate to have such a dedicated (and supportive) writer to look to when I’m floundering. She’s seen most of the problems I’ve had many times over and helps me to keep them all in perspective!

  2. Nice blog, nice poetry…you raise a very important point about writers and writing…I’m fortunate to have a very good job, so I can pursue writing as my hobby, as one of my passions…there’s no concern with making a living…though we’d all like some notoriety…

    1. I think that sometimes people who pursue writing as a hobby produce more work than people who freelance because the time they have to write is much more precious. When I was teaching and only had an hour a day to give to writing, I was pretty ferocious about protecting that time. Now I have more time but have to be much more disciplined to keep to my deadlines!

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