The Diana Woods Memorial Award in Creative Nonfiction

Issue 19: Summer/Fall 2021

Special Guest Judge, Marco Wilkinson

“A Message to My Mother in Morse Code” greets us with the paradox of a belly “swollen with cramps and emptiness” and then continues to deliver one unexpected blow after another as the narrator meditates on the unexpected pains her miscarriage delivers. In “jelly-thick” language, this essay shows the pain of not (only) the miscarriage but of the “frayed tightrope of your mother’s mouth,” the way the narrator’s womb is the “only tether to the women who came before me.” Here is a fierce lineage of women—a mother unafraid to leave a job or a husband, a grandmother not doting but steely—and this miscarriage is an equivocal message from the narrator back to them. What she wants more than anything is the comfort of an unforgiving past that this miscarriage betrays, the juice and the spilling seeds of a tomato lit by the blaze of an inferno. “A Message to My Mother in Morse Code” ruminates in stunning language on a difficult trauma and finds in it neither solace nor easy insight, but a difficult and vexed space of memory and family, and its power comes in its ability to be held in the jaws of that monster.

Marco Wilkinson is the author of Madder (Coffee House Press, 2021). His essays have appeared in Kenyon Review, Seneca Review, Terrain, Bennington Review, Taproot and elsewhere. He is the nonfiction editor of the Los Angeles Review. He has received several fellowships, including a Hemera Foundation Tending Space fellowship and writing residencies at Craigardan and the Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology. In addition to teaching in Antioch University’s MFA program, he is also a Visiting Assistant Professor at James Madison University where he teaches creative writing. Marco is also a horticulturist and has taught sustainable agriculture for many years.

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