January 2017 Featured Writer: Sarah Allred

sarah-allredSwimming with Elephants Publications would like to introduce our January 2017 Featured Writer: Sarah Allred.

Sarah Allred is a freelance writer and painter living in the small town of Lompoc, California. Inspired by the natural beauty of her surroundings and her emotional nature, Allred uses various art forms to express and process the events of her life. Her body of work, The Art of Self Preservation, was featured locally in November 2016. Allred plans to continue creating through 2017 and utilizing whatever outlets she can to distribute and show her works.

Learn more about Sarah Allred through her  Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/brujitasaladita) and Instagram handle (sarah_katherin).

The three poems and two short stories included in this short preview revolve around the theme of family. Her intention in sharing these works is to let others see that perhaps their family struggles may not be unique, and that it is acceptable to go through periods of painful growth with loves ones. Like many authors, Allred seeks to share her works  into the world as a means of catharsis for herself, and to create space in her writing practice for new themes and works to come through. The artwork included on this page is also Allred’s original work.

We are thrilled to have Sarah Allred as our first Featured Writer of 2017 and hope that you enjoy her work just as much as we have.


The Bookmark


I log on to Mom’s computer; I have to print forms to renew a form, or something. I open her browser. While I’m waiting for everything to load I scan her bookmarks: Pinterest, Facebook, something about organic living, Instagram. My eye snags on the last one. It isn’t a link to my Mom’s account; it’s a bookmark for my sister’s page.

I feel the quick shock I always do when I see or hear her name, like sticking your tongue on a battery. I should know it’s coming, it has been years, and I’ve touched the tip of my tongue to hundreds of black and gold squares in my life, but that metallic zip catches me off guard and lingers in my mouth, every time.

I swallow.

I look back towards the hall, where my mother is laying in bed with a migraine. I feel immediately awful for her. I try not to think about Hannah. I try to come to terms with the fact that right now, and maybe always, she just isn’t here. And it hurts when I think about it, but I accept it, and swallow it down, and I go through my life just a little bit lonelier.

But I know Mom thinks about her every day, I didn’t need to see the bookmark to know that. There isn’t I time I come to visit her that she doesn’t mention the prodigal daughter. I just sit. I think about how Mom probably looks at pictures  of her every day. I think about how she is dealing with the grief that most women hope they never know: the grief of losing a child. I think about how that grief is tempered by other things: the joy that my sister is still healthy, and alive, just somewhere else; the anger and pain of rejection, but multiplied a hundred by a hundred times; the guilt of thinking that maybe it is her fault and the paradoxical rage of knowing she did everything she knew how to do.

I press my tongue on the roof of my mouth. A man on the radio said if you do this, it is impossible for your body to produce tears. It was meant for as a helpful tip in stressful work situations. Quickly I realize the man on the radio lied, or was misinformed.

I dash the tears from my face. I can’t do this every day. It would rip me apart. I am now, for all intents and purposes, an only child. If I think about it the loneliness is too much, the betrayal is too much, the thought of her caring so little about us to do this, to give up, is gutting.

So I try not to think about it. I think, instead, of how I can be a better daughter. I think of how I can love my parents enough for the both of us. I think of how I can make my parents proud enough for the both of us.

I think about clicking that button.


* * *


I am not afraid of anything
not even a Tyrannosaurus rex
she says cheeks plump
in the yard I pick
tiny yellow flowers from
between thorns I think they
look like berries
I nod and agree

I am afraid I will never
be able to love again
she says cheeks plump
in the yard I exhale
smoke and wish I could
say anything true that would
let us feel better but
I nod and agree

* * *


I see these women
bags under their eyes
and blissfully unshowered
and I envy them
who get to pour
their love into one or
two or maybe three
finite little creatures
who haven’t had the
chance, yet, to be
terrorized by the world
As I sit here
with my flat belly
in a clean quiet house
and I remind you
to call your therapist
before it’s too late
and I listen to my boyfriend
talk about his exwife
and I remind a good friend
every time I see him
he is a good, generous man
and I call my mother
and I miss my sister
and it hurts to love
this way, this much

* * *

Prayer on the way to the grocery

is she in there
would they let me enter
can they smell my expatriation, my absence
the reek of logic and earthy pleasures
would I dip my hand
in that confusingly municipal
basin of hallowed water and
dredge it across my body
in quarters and
would I remember to genuflect and
would I find the comfort
she gave at fourteen:
slightly left of the altar
the byzantine magdalene
not who we are supposed
to supplicate to but
the mother instead,
the mother I still crave


Happy Birthday

fb_img_1483558788157It didn’t take my mother long to comment on how quiet I am, today.

“Awfully quiet, Sar.”

“I’m a pretty quiet person,” I replied, as mildly as I could. Sometimes I am surprised she hasn’t noticed this yet, or assimilated it into her understanding of who I am as a person, in the twenty-seven years we’ve known each other.

I refocused on getting ready for our hike, making sure I had water, stretching my hips.

We started out and it was a lovely day for hiking. My mother kept plowing of onto side paths, wrong ways, and I had to redirect her a few times before I decided to walk a few paces ahead of her and my father. My me about some plants he saw on the trail that were also at the stable where they keep their horses.

“That’s fennel,” I said. “It grows wild around here, and it’s edible.” I pointed out a couple more plants I knew, an invasive species, castorbean, that was abundant in the area, before I went back to walking quietly ahead. My mother kept up a steady chatter behind me, telling the lizards how much she loved them and yelling at the truck doing construction a few hills away, across the highway.

“Get outta here, you trucks, you’re blocking my view of nature!” A Chicago native turned Californian. She was also very upset by the presence of a water drainage pipe, a property boundary sign, and some telephone cables.

We stopped to take pictures at least three times on the way up, and at about eighty percent of the way there was a lone wind cave where we stopped to rest and, of course, take more pictures. I took some of my parents, watching their dynamic through the lens. My father stoic, a trouper, as mom grabbed his hand four photos in and wrestled him gently into a more affectionate pose for photos five through eight. I even got him to smile for the last one.

My turn came; Dad and I switched places. I leaned next to Mom on the low oak branch and smiled at my dad and the camera.

“Look Gav, Sarah’s in one of her ‘I don’t like to be touched’ moods,” my mother announced as she proprietarily threw her arm over my shoulder, pulled me in and put her other hand on my closer shoulder. I allowed it, it was her birthday, and what did it cost me? I could let go of somethings and be nice, on her birthday. And then I thought we were done, I made a move to get up, but she stopped me, put her arm further up my neck and used her palm to turn my cheek so that I was facing her.

“I want to take one like this, with us looking right at each other.”

I looked her in the eyes a moment, light green, ringed in makeup. I’m sure I pulled back from the thought before I made a conscious decision.

“No, this is too much,” I said. I got up and flapped my hands at her, like that might lessen the blow. “You’re making me uncomfortable.”

She gave a heavy sigh. “Can’t say I didn’t try,” as if that was something people accuse her of often.

Say you didn’t try what, I wondered. Didn’t try to make your daughter take an awkwardly staged photo? Didn’t decide to violate someone’s boundaries even though you made it clear you were aware of them?

“All right,” I said, clapping my hands together. “Are you guys ready to go to the top?”

“Let’s just go back,” my mom said, smoking her e-cigarette and facing away from us, to the mountains.

“What?” my Dad.

“Let’s just go back. I’m good.” She repeated.

“Well,” I said, “We’re really close. Like ten minutes from the top. I’d really like to go all the way up.”

“Okay, fine. I’ll wait here.” She puffed away, still not looking at us.

“I feel like you’re being passive-aggressive,” I ventured, slightly terrified of a mountain-side blowout and the subsequent silent hike down to the car where I would be both irritated and terrified that my mother would stumble in her anger and roll off a cliff.

“No, I’ll wait here, I’m fine.” she said again.

My dad and I mentally shrugged at each other and mosied up to the top, chatting about the best path, indigenous plants, my recent trip to the Grand Canyon with a boyfriend of whom I am unsure of their approval. It was pleasant, the view was lovely, I was satisfied with the completion of the hike.

We found our way back to Mom who was sitting on a rock, blowing bubbles. She apparently always has them in her purse. Most people don’t leave the house without their keys, cellphone; my mother: bubbles.

“How was it?” She is still not looking at us.

“Pretty cool.” My father is perennially nonchalant. “Really nice view.”

“Blow some bubbles.” She hands the tube and wand to Dad.

“I’m good for now, maybe later.”

“They make you happy.”

“I’m already happy,” he says, but he blows the bubbles. Makes some jokes about them causing airplane accidents. I marvel at his patience.

We make our way back to the car, pretty uneventfully, and make our way to the beach twenty minutes away where we have planned to picnic.

We get there and it is gorgeous. I jump in the ocean before I grab a chicken leg and eat with my parents.

20170104_113632“I can’t believe I didn’t bring a swimsuit!” Mom exclaims.

“Go naked,” Dad says. He still has his boots on.

“I have leggings on, and a sports bra.”

“I’ve gone in in a sports bra before,” I shrugged. I am smoking at a remove now, so as not to affront my parents who have been off cigarettes for a year. Graciously neither of them comments on my bad habit.

My mother says, “Is that a dare?” She is already stripping off clothes.

I said, “No, I’m just saying it can be done. I’ll join you in a minute.”

She runs in, screaming at the cold and flailing in the shallows. I walk in after her, past the breakers, and I glide around, doing my water dance, letting the ocean buoy and cradle me. I am chilly but at peace, I watch the water ripple through my fingers. This is the happiest I’ve been all day, and I am glad my mother is in the ocean with me. I look back at her.

She is still thrashing in the break line, yelping, plowing her body into the waves. She is smacking at the water as if she can beat it down. She reminds me of a child, specifically a boy child, aggressive for no discernable reason. “These waves are attacking me!” She yells.

And suddenly I realize, this is how it is for her. In her eyes, she is always under attack, she always has to fight, and if there isn’t anything to attack she must create it. Maybe she can’t feel strong on her own, there must always be an oppressor, she is the underdog, the caboose.

And I wonder why she bothers me so much, with that victim mentality; her fibromyalgia, her little toe that moves separate of her cognitive command, the way she views cancer as an evil force reaping strong, sweet people from her life, that time she had lupus, her restless leg syndrome, her recent diagnosis of bipolar disorder and subsequent bout of mood-stabilizing drugs that did everything but and in her words, ‘were going to kill her’.

How can I be so irritated by someone who has been diagnosed with mental illness. Shouldn’t I, as much as anyone who has struggled with depression, be more loving and compassionate? Or is this just the way of it with mothers and daughters, with parents and their children? Is it one of those things I won’t understand until she is dead and buried?

I don’t know when I will know.