Back Yard, a Mother-Daughter Collaborative / by Jefna M. Cohen

I am pleased to post about another collaborative work between my mom, Dorothy McCuistion, and me. Our book, Backyard, is currently on display in the Collins Memorial Library at the University of Puget Sound. I wrote the poem in the book, below, which contains images of growing up on a site that contained lead, arsenic, and other toxic chemicals, unbeknownst to my family.

The visuals in the book are paper lithographs of family photos, some showing the demolition of the ASARCO smelter stack in 1993. Also included are parts of the county health department questionnaire sent to affected neighborhoods a few years ago.

Dorothy has two books in the Puget Sound Book Artists annual exhibit, from June 2 – July 30, 2016, at the Collins Memorial Library. She is a print maker, painter, and is an all-around great gal and gold-star mom. We are having so much fun working together, and we have another work in progress.

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We had our hands in it, from the very beginning.

A new brother on the grass,

a shiny black beetle,

a rusty railroad spike.

We dig until we get to the end of the sand in the sand box, and then dig some more.

You can get to China, you know.


Fast food containers are filled with mud food to entice the neighborhood children, who refuse.

Parents are pulled outdoors for a puppet show, conceived and produced in a single afternoon.

The sprinkler is left on too long and we squish our toes in puddle marshes.


We pluck snap peas from stringy vines and pop them into our mouths.

The raspberries parade along the wooden fence, beneath the old pear tree.

See how the earth provides?


Dad pays us to weed beneath the rhodies, and I torment the cat until he attacks and flees.

Later, I pet him, his black fur mottled with dust.

My brother blindly mows the grass through allergic tears.

Fourth of July picnics repeat.


August nights bring that familiar ache as the light retreats

from our endless days of play,

theater curtains drawing shut as if by giant hands.




this yard holding all of it,

the bittersweet wonders of childhood.

I read a book about a girl who saw something others did not, and wanted to be her.

Something was suspicious, after all,

but it was not what we thought.