Prologue: Thornhill Trail

“Best to stay on the marked trails, miss–” the ranger looked at her ID again — “Thornhill.” He handed her ID back to her, started to give her a map, then stopped.

“And remember, it’s a federal offense to remove any artifacts from a national park, manmade or otherwise.”

She plucked the map from his hand and took off, a little too fast; her Corolla skidded as she rounded the corner and turned south on the drive.

She was still miffed when she reached the parking lot for the Thornhill Trail.

Once on the trail, she relaxed, telling herself that no one was going to follow her. Hikers looked for old homesteads and cemeteries in the park all the time.

At the bottom of the hollow, she saw an overgrown path veering off to the left. She checked her map, took a swig from her Camelback, and started bushwacking.

Want to read more?  Leave me a comment below and I will continue to post installments.

Questions about the Gay Agenda

ejdavidagendaSo what exactly is this “gay agenda” I keep hearing about? Right wing groups claim that gays are trying to shove their gay agendas down straight people’s throats. (I thought gays preferred to shove something else down throats, but no matter.)

As a devout Christian, I have a few questions about this so-called gay agenda.

Is a gay agenda like a business plan that gays have to draft and get approved before they can “choose” a gay lifestyle?  Continue reading

Only the Good Die Young

They say the good die young
I guess that must be true
My heart keeps on beating
Though I don’t want it to
Sweet friends they went too early
The teacher and the vet
I dine on desperation
Why cannot I go next?
A bridge so high, so far to fall
Paul’s death a certainty
One step was all it took for him
To find eternity
I don’t know why God holds me here
The reason’s kept from me
My heart continues beating
My soul begs to be free
My mother left me twice
It’s more than I can bear
My siblings joined her cause this time
And turned around their chairs
Bartleby you got it right
To die is just to sleep
Lie me down and let me go
My bed the harsh concrete
A gun’s too loud
Pills too unsure
Perhaps I’ll use the car
Overpass or traffic light
Which one shall I prefer?
Don’t call me coward, that’s not fair
You don’t know pain like this
You cannot know what it feels like
To wear a granite vest
Who would even notice?
With time, each mem’ry fades
The living go on living
The dead they just decay
What would I do if I were you
And you beseeching me
Would I call for help
to come at once
Or leave and let you be?

I am not a Racist. Or am I? Am I?


Holy Moses I have been deceived
Holy Moses let us live in peace
Let us strive to find a way to make all hatred cease
There’s a man over there what’s his colour I don’t care
He’s my brother let us live in peace
Border Song, lyric by Elton John

(c) 1969 Dick James Music Ltd. 1969

I cannot be a racist. I am not from the South. (Not that everyone from the south is a racist.) I grew up in desegregated schools (my father was in the military); I had black friends then, as I do now. I have never uttered the “n” word.

I cannot be a racist. Or can I?

I recently read an essay called I, Racist, by John Metta, that made me re-think my smug attitude.

As the soon to be maligned Atticus Finch said in To Kill a Mockingbird, “You really don’t know someone until you see things from their perspective.”

This, I think, is what the Confederate flag controversy is all about. The flag’s defenders insist the flag has nothing to do with racism; it’s all about heritage. African-Americans, on the other hand, see the flag as a symbol of oppression and racism– and with good reason. (Note: I’m going to use the term black instead of African-American because it’s easier to type. Plus, Metta uses it also.)

Back in college, I remember seeing a black student (they were few and far between) and thinking, what’s it like to be surrounded by only white people? What’s it like to rarely see anyone who looks like you? I honestly didn’t know what it would feel like. I still don’t.

I’ve tried to imagine myself as the only white person among a group of blacks, but I don’t think it’s the same thing at all. As John Metta says,

Racism is the fact that “White” means “normal” and that anything else is different.

That hit me like a ton of bricks.

The basic premise of Metta’s article is this:

 White people and Black people are not having a discussion about race [because] black people, thinking as a group, are talking about living in a racist system. White people, thinking as individuals, refuse to talk about “I, racist” and instead protect their own individual and personal goodness. In doing so, they reject the existence of racism.

I think he’s right. As a white person, I’m not subject to racism; it doesn’t impact me personally so I don’t see it in the subtle ways it is usually displayed. But a couple of things happened recently that gave me a glimpse of the black person’s perspective.

But first, I have to make a confession.   I assumed that black people were targeted because they did something to attract attention, either they were acting suspiciously or were dressed like a thug. Most of my black friends are professionals like me so I assumed they were treated the same as white professionals. After all, all money is the same color, right?

Metta says white people don’t experience racism, so it’s not real to them. (Don’t dare try to talk about reverse racism. White men still have most of the power and money in the U.S. When was the last time you saw a middle age white man followed around a store because the owner was afraid he might steal something? I’m guessing never.)

A few months ago, a former colleague posted something disturbing on her Facebook page. This woman is a professional; she went to UVA and has (or soon will have) a Ph.D. Now, I know it shouldn’t matter what her credentials are, but it makes my point. Anyway, she posted that she had taken her daughter to the dentist and when they sat down in the waiting room, a white woman got up and moved across the room.

Are you sure it was because you are black, I asked? Maybe the lighting was better over there?

No, she assured me. First, the area the woman moved to was more crowded. And second (and sadly), she had experienced this before and knew racism when she saw it.

Then, an acquaintance, who is a partner at a major law firm, mentioned that he had to have “the talk” with his sons. No, not that talk, the other one. The talk about how to act appropriately when stopped by the cops for DWB. What? Since when do drug dealers wear Armani suits?

Finally, I had lunch with a good friend and former colleague. She’s a professional like me, but her credentials are far superior to mine. She graduated from high school at 16. She has both a J.D. and an MBA. She speaks French and Spanish fluently. And to top it off, she was a beauty queen.

She would never be subjected to racism, right?

We had lunch in a restaurant I had been to many times with my husband. We were waited on by the same waitress I had been waited on several times before. This waitress wasn’t the most personable of people, but she was efficient.

On this day, however, it dawned on me that she did not want to wait on us. At all.   I thought perhaps she was in a bad mood, so I watched her interact with other customers; she wasn’t acting the same way with them. Just us.

Was I making this up? I wasn’t sure because her actions were rather subtle. Had my friend noticed this? I was afraid to ask. What could I say? The waitress would just deny it, wouldn’t she?

I didn’t say anything.

The waitress brought our check before we had finished eating. That’s when I was sure something was wrong. My friend smiled at her sweetly and said, “I believe I would like some coffee.” It was only later that I thought, I’ll bet my friend did see what was going on and that’s how she dealt with it. My friend was not going to be pushed around.

I’m mortified about this. How dare that waitress treat my friend shabbily just because of her color? I thought as a society we were past all that. Obviously, we are not.

As a white person, what am I supposed to do? Presumably I don’t exhibit racist behaviors; at least I hope I don’t. I’ll have to watch myself more carefully.   But what else can I do?

Metta offers this suggestion (more like a challenge):

 White people are in a position of power in this country because of racism. The question is: Are they brave enough to use that power to speak against the system that gave it to them? So I’m asking you to help me. Notice this. Speak up. Don’t let it slide. Don’t stand watching in silence.

I won’t presume to say I now understand what it’s like to be a black person in a white society. All I’m saying is what blacks have been trying to tell whites forever—racism is alive and well. In some cases it may be subtle, it may be nuanced, but it’s there. And we can do something about it.

The Peril of the Purloined Panini

paniniAs we toil away in Corporate America, who amongst us has not suffered the loss of food from the communal refrigerator?  It’s a problem as old as the water cooler itself.  Plenty of Facebook posts and Youtube videos illustrate ways to get back at these inconsiderate jerks who seem to think they are at home where everything in the fridge is fair game.   I personally like the spitting technique or the hot sauce revenge.  I’ve been lucky, however; no one wants my leftovers.  (I don’t know why not considering my husband is a retired chef).  But I better not tempt fate.


A few months ago, a woman in our office became a victim of a refrigerator marauder.  I penned this ditty in her honor.

She was late for work
So she grabbed the first thing
From the freezer she saw
A new Lean Cuisine.

A panini she brought
And her tastebuds did soar
At the thought of the treat
She now had in store.

Ensconced in the freezer
The morning flew past
When lunchtime arrived
She could eat it at last.

But the sandwich was gone!
How could this be?
Alas, said Betty
From me, they took three.

Who would do such a thing
In an office so small?
Such a dastardly deed
So shameless, what gall!

With the box, Sheldon said
We could dust it for prints
But the crook was too smart
And left not a hint.
If we ever find out
The name of the thief
We’ll show him no mercy
No end to his grief
Remember revenge
Is always best cold
He’ll wish he had eaten
His own yogurt with mold.

© 2015 Renata Manzo

Don’t Go Smelling My . . .

kiki dee

When you live with boys and men (larger boys, really), one thing is inevitable– farts.  For some reason, men love their farts.  The first time my husband told me that he and  best friend Steve used to light their farts when they were boys, I was appalled.  Continue reading

Self Portrait, version 2, part 1

lakemBear with me folks, I’m taking a poetry workshop and so I will be torturing you with my tortured prosody for a while.


I am an open
Telling my story
Is Telling
And soothing.

My father burned
With a Mediterranean fever.
My mother hid inside
A cowl made of Canadian ice.
His heat melted her ice
And I was born.

He reigned over us all,
Including my mother,
With military precision.
His way was the only
Mercy was not his to
Give. Or so he said.

He force fed us
Opera on
Saturday afternoons.
The intercom with its
Tyranical radio
Blared throughout
The cellblock.
We were not allowed to
Turn the volume down.
Such was my childhood.

My mother escaped when
I was 11.
She did not take
Any of us with her.
She left us with the
Madman instead.

When I left for college
I never came back.
But she did.
His charm was like
A neodymium magnet.
Her iron filings,
Skinny and weak,
Had no choice but to
Line up against his force field.

When I was
I got on the school bus
With my older brothers.
I was ready to learn how to read.
The driver brought me
Home, amused
But I was heartbroken.
So my mother taught me instead.

I still have my class picture
From kindergarten.
My face is framed with straight
brown hair
And bangs my mother cut
With scotch tape.
I’m smiling up to my eyes.
My hands, covered
with dimpled white gloves,
Are splayed
With excitement.

I inherited my legacy
When I was
Sitting in the high school
Cafeteria, I looked at my sandwich
But could not eat.
I did not know why.

I first went to college
On the edge of Harlem
Everything there
Was gray—
The buildings, sidewalks, streets, sky
And the people.
And cold,
So, so cold.
I fled two weeks into
Second semester.

I went south instead
South to warmth
And smooth brick
Walkways that surrounded
A garden with no flowers.
But at least it was green.
Green, the color of trees and grass
And verdant reflections on
Lake Matoaka.

Is this
A self portrait?
What are we if not

Our personal histories?

Who I am now
is the sum total of all I was
then, and over time
Who I have become.

Who I am now
is what you
See now.

I am an open

Questions from a Winter Hike on a Sunday (revised and reposted)


Jenni poses right before we start the march back down


My babycar moans as we ascend Afton Mountain
My hiking partner Jenni,
Who should be named Penny because of her hair,
Sits beside me
I can see her thoughts roaming around in her head

The Appalachian Mountains are old men, shrunken in faded coats and dusty pants
But we are too close now to see them
The streets are empty; everyone else is in a church with walls
Past Waynesboro, I count the roads that lean toward the mountains
Solid lines on the map become spotted and then fade to nothing
Like veins under the skin
How many of these roads used to climb up and over the mountains
Before the reclusive farms succumbed to the government’s desire to “recapture” nature?
How many nonconforming pilgrims were supplanted by steal signs that say
“No Public Access”?
These hardy Virginians craved freedom, not cash
Right before the trailhead I see
An abandoned farmhouse, boarded and brown and lonely
Who lived there once?

We park and pull on our boots
Jenni is methodical, as usual, but she knows
I hate to wait so she’s ready soon
I feel winter’s icy fingers sliding down my back so I zip up
We head up a fire road; Jenni has promised an easy trek this morning

Hello old friends, brown, tall, sturdy and stern!
Most greet us with their silence, but I can hear them
I scout for widow makers
As their squeaky warnings call from overhead

A yellow blaze painted on a tree
Warns us that horses also travel this road
I step wide of the road apples; some are still round and black
Others lie flat, the color of blond hair
Ashes to ashes; hay to hay
Why have I never noticed that before today?

The Madison runs next to us, taking melted snow from the peaks
Down to hamlets like Grottoes and Stanley
On the valley floor
As we rise, the stream disappears under mangled leaves

Poor man’s silver crunches under my Keens
I study the remnants of Pangaea at my feet
Is someone following us?
No, it’s only the water gurgling in the bladder on my back

This is a fire road?
Up, up, five miles up
I can see crewcuts at the top
Jenni could get farther ahead, but she waits for me because she knows
I have to stop often to catch my breath
I have not been to the Y in weeks and it shows
Are we there yet? How many miles to go?
I pretend to stop just to enjoy the view
The undressed trees let us spy
On Stanley and Grottoes
My legs feel like lead stakes driven into the ground
But I will not let Jenni down
Not today


Madison Run bringing fresh water to Grottoes


At the top
We lounge on wet hay scattered over humus
Skyline Drive meanders beside us
My peanut butter and honey sandwich smells sticky
But I enjoy the sweet and crunchy taste mixed together
We laze and gaze at the parking lot as it disgorges
Pairs of pilgrims seeking refuge
Just like us

The sun has scooted the clouds away
Like a teacher sending her kindergarten class off to take an afternoon nap
Its yellow rays sting my eyes
Why didn’t I bring a hat?

I need to pee but there’s no room to squat
One side of the road shears straight up
Wearing a messy cloak of rocks and leaves and sticks
The other side tumbles straight down
Taking nature’s detritus with it

Every hike follows the same straight curve
At first I exclaim
I love being in the woods
When the trail starts to get steep
I think to myself
I’m too old to climb hills anymore; I’m selling all my equipment on Craigslist as soon as I get home
At the top I proclaim
That wasn’t so bad; isn’t it beautiful up here?
As we march back down I wonder
Where’s the damn car?
Back at the trailhead I ask
When can we do this again?
Is tomorrow too soon?

© 2015 Renata Manzo


The Transformative Power of Yoga: Who Knew? I didn’t.

cover_feature1-6 Instead of a regular blog post today, I recommend that you read a great article written about my stepson.  

Robbie Norris, who owns Richmond Private Yoga, has been running a yoga program at the Richmond City Jail for several years. Billy (my stepson) took advantage of the program, along with every other program the jail had to offer, including a writing class. If you read all the way through the post, you will see a letter that Robbie wrote to the judge and one that Billy wrote to the judge. They will make you cry.

And many thanks to the judge, Beverly Snukals, for giving him a second chance. Bev is an old friend of mine from way back. I kept a low profile while he was going through the court system because of my friendship with Bev. I doubt she even knows that Billy is my stepson.

Billy now has his own blog at Please check that out as well. With support from the community, he will have a much better chance of succeeding at his new life.

Bonus: you will learn some surprising things about the Richmond City Jail– good things, for a change.

If you like this post, please press “Like” and leave a comment. I really need some comments!