Bride Doll

The first and only Christmas I can

recall before they took us away

I was sitting on the far side of the

living room near the door, beside

an open stairway, removed from my

family as I opened my only gift.


She was small, pale, and hard

with shiny, slick flesh—except where stark,

grotesque angles hinged every stiff

joint, the only way to manipulate her.

Her hair was like black spun silk, coiffed

in glue so that to comb would destroy.


I cringed at her eyes, lifeless and cold, like lapis,

a stoic expression toward marital bliss.


Tears beaded down her white-on-white

floral taffeta gown as I blurted out

to my grandmother, It’s ugly!  But

what I didn’t say—couldn’t say—

was how she frightened me.

I was an ungrateful child.

I got what I asked for.

– Mary E. Kocher


This was an initial assignment in one of numerous writing workshops I attended over the years.  I think we had 10 minutes or so to complete it.

Why I Write

             When I first began to write, I wrote because there was no one to listen to me.  The paper could not escape my ink, and my own words smacked me right between the eyes.  I didn’t know who I was, where I came from, or where I was going.  Sometimes I wrote to God who seemed light-years away.  I hoped that one day I could write something worthwhile.

So who am I that I should write?  I write because I am like you.  I write, because I love.  I write because I am broken.  I write to teach and find that I learn.  I write, because it’s safer than speaking.  I write to bare my soul and ask for mercy.  I write to draw you into me.  I write to push you away.  I write what I feel and what I am afraid to feel.  My scribbled path will show you that which I run from as well as that which fuels my passion.  I write with bloody ink, that healing might follow.  I write to find a place where I belong.  I write to tell the truth if it can be found.  I write to expose the lies I tell myself.  I write in search of peace.  I write to wage war against injustice.  I write to capture the shadow of a moment.  I write to be apprehended.  I write to bring laughter.  I write to cope with loss.  I write to pray and pray to write.  I seldom write to curse.  I write to find reasons to be thankful and to live.  I write to die many kinds of death.  I write, because I starve.  I write, because I am nauseatingly full.  I write as an act of courage to ward off fear, loneliness, and anger.  I write to believe.  I write to deny that which I believe.  I write to excite, imagine, and dream the impossible.  I write to make my heart stop pounding. I write because I revere words.  I write knowing words are inadequate. I write to forgive, because I am forgiven.  I write to relinquish all.

I write as if I really matter.

–  Mary E. Kocher       8/27/07

Given the same assignment in a later workshop, I wrote:

Why I Write

 I write because I want to shed the shame that was never mine.  I’m told that I will find myself in my words; no one can do this for me.  I write because I see a trickling up from the ground in a lonely field and want to discover its source.  I write because of pressure that is too great to sustain it any longer.  Sometimes it’s like a waterfall flowing backward into the abyss of the unnamed or like the imminent explosion of misplaced elements into the test tube of life.

I write for my own blood-letting, a steady and sure death, but quiet and calm.  I must take this risk to relieve myself of the throbbing in these legs that have carried me all these years.  I am afraid, I feel, with just cause, because “life is in the blood,” and I can only hope the sacrifice will be worth it.  I read it’s in the shedding of blood we find redemption…I tell myself it’s only the shell that disintegrates…the shell outside the shell, that is.  It was easy for that man to say, “You’ll be glad for doing this.”  Then I saw him wandering in my dreams last night.  His eyes said he needed a kind embrace, but something stopped me—maybe I had projected my need onto him. And when I awoke, I was glad to have refrained, because otherwise I might have embraced death, too–too soon.

Like pepper in the nostrils, I don’t want to find some things because it burns and doesn’t go away easily.  But I must write or another kind of burning will not subside.  I write because I believe I will discover one day what is worth writing.  I write to learn.  I write to feel.  I write so I won’t hurt anymore.  I write, because someday I will trip upon the very words that need to be written, spoken, heard, and remembered.

This is my food, my strength, the marrow in my bones. I think we are not so different at the very core, so  I will write until I can write no more.

– Mary E. Kocher, August 2010



always begins

when we aren’t

paying attention.


First freeze sucks

shades of celadon,

emerald, loden

from spent foliage.


Chlorophyll sinks

into branches, trunk

and roots: a forced



Pigments once hidden:

amaranth, mauve,

topaz, amber, coral,

cinnabar, sienna, bay…


releasing, floating on

unseen wings, gently

coming to rest,

raked into a heap:


a soft coffin.


I will surrender

smiling, falling

backward, dazzling

death, buried alive.


By the time my body

becomes alabaster,

dove, ebony,

silver ashes—


I am already gone.

– Mary E. Kocher


How delicate their disposition.

Startled black eyes beset with sapphire lashes

 peer upward at oblivious passers-by

Tiny, sad blooms gather with their own,

keeping a low profile, thus

slighted and crushed














                                                                                                                                                                                         –  Mary E. Kocher

The ice had been building up for years,

the kind of thing you want to ignore

until everything begins to crack

from the pressure and weight of it all.


Then you’re overwhelmed at the thought of                            

all that picking, hacking away at it.  You

keep looking away until one day you realize

that no one else is going to do anything about it.


So I emptied the freezer, put everything on the table.

I thought a little warmth might help melt away

what time and coldness had buried only to realize

this would be neither a brief nor simple undertaking.


I’d have to be fast, considering how things can spoil

in time. So in the gentlest, most careful, but deliberate

manner, I began to tap gently at the ice. Initially, nothing

budged; it seemed wiser to leave it alone for a while.


But that would mean having to endure the sound

of that constant drip, like my falling tears, dreading

what I knew lay beneath the coldness—a real mess. 

I was trying to avoid a complete breakdown.


I left for a while then returned to remove the remaining ice,

trying to avoid further damage. Great chunks fell with

ease now, exposing a large hole on the left side. As I gently

cleaned the empty space, I asked myself, Why did I wait so long?

                                                                                                                                                   – Mary E. Kocher



Our teachers

sent us home

with tiny trees to plant—

before green was

en vogue.


The same temporary

dad who taught me

how to tell time, helped

his daughter and me

to plant our baby oaks,


side by side.

Days later, when ruffians

knocked mine down,

I wept as if my spindly

sapling possessed a soul—


as if the brokenness were

my own flesh.


Since my tears never ended

quickly, I am sure they watered

my tree the day I knelt opposite

Dad as he splinted and bound it

with popsicle sticks and string.


I returned often to examine

the wound, forgetting even

that it was mine by

midsummer when I moved

to the next foster home.


I was 19 when

Mr. White said, Look,

Evie. that’s your tree;

it’s the bigger of the two—

and stronger.


Some things I never really

forget but don’t realize

until tears tell me not

all that is wounded

and broken dies.

Last week I paid

earnest money for

a lot with two trees;

my home will be

built between them.

– Mary E. Kocher

     (for Dikra)

I left my blood

in America,

having once believed

I could not live

without it. More than

four thousand miles,

mostly Atlantic,

my soul stretched

the distance,

whose fearful face

separated me from

my own, yet a

threefold cord is

not quickly broken—

like the priceless

one that binds you

to your grandmother

in Baghdad.  Still,

I wonder if you know

how beautiful you are.

From your easy lips

syllables floated

with elegance,

gently, as soft as

dove’s down,


as gold,

hot, fresh

from the crucible

of your soul,

precious ore


I felt the drawing

like Jesus sensed

strength leave him

when the woman

with an issue of blood

touched His garment and

was healed,

I felt the drawing.

I am no Jesus, but

I leaned in to hear

your soul’s whisper

rise like the cry

of Abel’s blood

from the earth

that were it up

to us rather than


we would teach

our children’s

hands to war                      

no more.

Mary E. Kocher


While my children



in their beds


I steal outside

to lie atop

pearly drifts


an onyx expanse

sparkling flakes

are melting



Kiss my lashes

peck my cheeks

wet my lips

fill my mouth

saturate me


I am torn


to stay

or to lift

my wings

like an angel


I look



and I wonder,

How will I


 my little ones

to fly?

                                                     –  Mary E. Kocher

Neither remembers whose thought it had been

or what drove them, armed with a gnarly branch

and my flower garden hand tools (Shepherd-mix

dog, their only witness), to dig a hole to Hell.


After a long dry spell, white patches from a decades-

old salt pit had surfaced on the bare spots. Had they

been caught red-handed, they might have been

warned how shallow the dirt was above the clay.


Surreptitiously they kneeled between the rusty

swing set, the woodshed, and the dog house,

gouging Satan’s roof  until they saw red—

clear evidence Hell couldn’t be that far below.


Hearts racing, they shoved it all back, faster

Than you could name the seven deadly sins,

deciding Hell was closer than they’d realized—

and waited nearly twenty years to tell their mother.

-Mary E. Kocher


I wrote: STUPID


like a banner above your

sixth grade photo and

tossed it into my annually

increasing collection


only to forget what you

did to warrant this

deeply etched indigo

over your head.


Why I had christened

you my sole, secret

victim, or even why

I held onto your


desecrated likeness,

I could not recall when

my daughter, laughing,

spied it in the heap.


After you were

elected Sheriff

of LawrenceCounty,

you said to me,


What I remember

most about you is

how I envied your

beautiful penmanship.

– Mary E. Kocher