2019 Carl Sandburg Writer-in-Residence

Susan Polizotto
2019 Writer-in-Resident, Susan Polizzotto

Photo by Alan Cradick

Susan Polizzotto
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site and the Friends of Carl Sandburg at Connemara are pleased to announce the 2019 Carl Sandburg Writer-in-Residence, Susan Polizzotto. The writer for 2019 is a prose writer.

About Susan
Susan Polizzotto served in the U.S. Coast Guard and began writing full time after retiring from active duty. She is currently writing a novel, The Spider and the Swallow, inspired by true events in the Bering Sea, and a memoir of her seven years on Coast Guard cutters. In 2017, she founded a writers support group, Bramble Writers.

Susan lives with her husband, Jim Parrington, and German Shepard pup, Stella, in coastal North Carolina near Wilmington. As a meditative practice and way to engage with and celebrate the natural world, Susan enjoys writing haiku. She has studied haiku history and composition with Sensei Kaz Tanahashi, Clark Strand and Natalie Goldberg at the Upaya Institute and Zen Center in Santa Fe, NM and O-shyu-ji (Japanese calligraphy) with Sensei Mitzi Ito in Carolina Beach, NC.

Meet Susan
Susan will participate in the following public programs:

March 30 (Saturday) at 10:00 am
Writing Workshop

Join the 2019 Writer-in-Residence Susan Polizzotto for a writer's workshop. Susan will share some of her experience as a writer and lead the group through a writing prompt activity. This workshop is suitable for writers of all skill levels. The space is limited to 16 participants. Please call the park to sign-up at 828-693-4178. Learn more about Susan here.

April 5 (Friday) at 7:00 pm
Student Poetry Contest Celebration

Young poets from Elementary School through High School will be recognized for their writing achievements and each student will present their winning entry. The 2019 poetry contest theme is "Joy". Program will be held at Blue Ridge Community College, Patton Building Room 150. The 2019 Writer in Residence, Susan Polizzotto, will be a guest speaker at the event.

Prose Selection from Susan
In this short excerpt from Susan’s novel, The Spider and the Swallow, a young Yupik boy listens to his great grandmother recount one of the family’s legends.

A Thread from Heaven

At the dawn of time, the world was ice. Had we lived then, we could have run a team of sled dogs until they dropped but never found tundra or sea. Eagles arced above endless glaciers. Fish swam below thick crusts of ice. Beyond the dome of heaven, the spirits of our Ancestors lived in a place near the sun.

Frigid updrafts carried the cries of raptors calling their mates to the curious ears of our Ancestors. Peering over the edge of their home, they watched eagles soar on wings that scraped the forlorn sky, unaware one misstep might send them plummeting to the ice. They glimpsed their own faces and images refracted in the world’s crystalline surface, wraithlike and distorted, and turned away to frolic in warmth and light.

Things stayed the same for millennia. Then the swallows came, no one knows from where. One spotted an Ancestor’s reflection and chattered to the others, sending the mischievous flock speeding to the dome’s apex where a thousand claws tugged the seamless fabric and tore holes in the sky. Sunlight poured down and began melting the ice.

Soon sea water covered the world. The eagles feasted on fish but had nowhere to land. After days of orbiting they found Denali, the mountain top where Sister Spider, the Wise Benevolent One lived.

Please Sister Spider, they asked, can you help? The holes in the sky are too much for our world. The sun’s heat will kill us.

Stretching her legs in the luxurious light, she listened to their petition. The ancient sun nourished them, but she knew too much of a good thing can be fatal.

Don’t worry. I’ll help, she said, but I need time to think. She closed her eyes and a serene expression suffused her face. Her fuzzy legs grew still.

Denali was the only place the eagles could land, and they stayed on the peak, shifting from talon to talon with care in order to not disturb Sister Spider.

She remained motionless for hours, while the sun continued to bask and the shadow cast by her tiny form inched around her body.

She’s so small. What can she possibly do? one whispered.

She won’t be able to reach the sky, she has no wings, said another.

Or feathers to shield her from the heat, said a third.

The Lord of the Eagles silenced them with wing jabs and a fierce look. It was no time for prattle; the fate of the world was at stake. But when several more hours passed without so much as a quiver from Sister Spider, he also thought she had fallen asleep, or worse been roasted by the sun.

It startled them all when she broke her repose. Hundreds of necks craned forward and a rustle of feathers echoed through the ranks as she opened her eyes and wiggled her legs.
Good morning, Sister, the Lord of the Eagles said. If there is a way to save the world, tell us. We await your instructions.

Dear Brother, fly me to the dome on your back so I can inspect the holes in the sky. I may be able to mend them with a web.

Most Wise Benevolent One, not only are we at your service, we are in your debt. How can we repay you? he said.

She blinked, considering. Some debts can be paid, some cannot. One day I may need a favor, but more likely someone else will need it first. In which case you must help.

That surprised him. Who else would need a favor, and when? He was hardly in a position to negotiate, with water surrounding Denali in all directions, no space on the mountain top for the flock to build eyries, and the waters still rising. Something had to be done before the waves lapped at their talons.

Very well, it shall be done, he said. He plucked a milk white feather with his hooked beak and gave it to the Wise Benevolent One to seal the promise. She tucked it into a pouch on her body. Feeling the beat of her compassionate heart, the feather turned into ivory.

The Lord of the Eagles flew her to the apex of the vaulted sky where she spun an enormous web to mend the damage done by the swallows. In her zeal, and because it was her first attempt on a project of this magnitude, she closed every gap. The sun couldn't penetrate the sky and the world began to freeze again.

Missing their easy diet of fish from the sea, the mischievous swallows returned to the dome and pecked holes in the sky.

Ever curious, the Ancestors peered through the ragged perforations. One lost his balance and tumbled down, crashing through the ice into the sea and becoming St. Lawrence Island. Several more fell from heaven to become the Pribilofs, Unimak and Aleutian Islands. Mikisura, the beautiful daughter of the sun, fell too but was caught by an Eagle gliding by who gently set her down on the Chukchi Peninsula, where she married a Wolf and became the mother of our People.

About once a century, a celestial being fell from the sky, which disrupted our People and they complained. The swallows heard their lament and discussed it with the Lord of the Eagles. He hated to ask another favor, but Sister Spider, the Wise Benevolent One would know what to do, so he enlisted her help again. This time she used the ivory feather like a shuttle and wove a stronger, tighter web, one the swallows couldn’t peck and tear apart, but she left peep holes, the stars, so the spirits of the Ancestors could satisfy their curiosity without falling through. She also left the moon for our People to pass through at the end of their lives on their journey to the land of endless light. To reduce the chances of an Ancestor tumbling through the lunar portal, she wove a blanket of midnight velvet and commissioned the tides to draw it over the moon like a curtain and open it only once a month for souls to pass through.

The swallows were remorseful and wanted to make amends. With their love of flying and fearlessness of heights, they would have been perfect for drawing the curtain across the moon, except they were not reliable. Instead, the Wise Benevolent One assigned them to protect our People when they hunt and fish.

Gathering the swallows, she said, Do everything in your power to prevent the People from coming to harm. When nothing else can be done to escape it, fly to me quickly and I’ll lower a thread from heaven to raise them out of danger.

We will, they answered with one voice. Each plucked a feather and gave it to her.

She tucked the feathers into the pouch near her heart, where they turned into ivory tusks, imbued with mystical powers. When the swallows left, she buried four ivory tusks in the earth. They sprouted and grew into walruses, the sustenance of our People. And this is why our hunters carry a walrus tusk with them for good luck, often carved in the shape of a swallow.

Now you know the story, and you will never forget. You will tell it to others, who will also remember. Thus our past will forever be linked to our present.

Last updated: February 20, 2019

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