A Pencil Carries Its Own Baggage 

Tenderly, I open the tightly wrapped package of pencils without spilling them onto my desk. I count each one out, arranging them into a fan of possibilities. Each one made of thin-cased wood and hexagonal in shape. Each one balances easily in my left hand’s grasp. I pick one to start— and once its blunt end is sharpened and its core of graphite exposed, the writing begins. Every hand-drawn letter leaves a gray trail, turning words to phrases, to sentences, until the pencil stops and drops from my cramped hand.


I have a story to tell. This yellow HB #2 pencil, with its proper heft and weight, will make the telling somewhat mesmerizing, with delicate thumbnail illustrations in the margins, before finding the right words to cast its spell. Over me, the fog of imagination. Over you, a way of seeing into my fog. On the page, crumbs of ‘lead’ adhere to the paper’s texture in smooth strokes, allowing you to study the map of my intentions. Look closely, you will be surprised by what’s not there.


My mother never liked to leaves things undone.  My sister Karen, on the other hand, left many things undone, even though she would shout the command: Do it now!  She was an artist of many expressions.  In the summer of 1963, Karen bought oil and acrylic paints, brushes, canvases, and set out to capture imagined rural landscapes and family portraits, which we still have to this day.  I was one of her models. A sticky 10-year-old, sitting crossed-legged in the yard, with our miniature German Schnauzer Heidi in my lap. Karen drew our outlines briefly, then filled in the exact colors of my clothes, and messy hair, and Heidi’s bright eyes and just-brushed whiskers. It was definitely better than paint-by-number, only it was missing one thing: My face. I was left “blank” for a long while— years to be exact, which amused Karen and disturbed my mother until she took one of my father’s golf pencils, that she happened to find in the drawer of our rock maple sideboard, and with its fat glossy tip, she sketched my eyes, nose, and mouth, making my face instantly sad in the smudge of her fingertips.


This face became indelible—an unforgiven rift between my sister and my mother. A face I

would recognize immediately as my own. No pink pearl eraser was tested to see if it could scrub

the wispy strokes from its skin of paint. My face: inscrutable and distant. Over time, I learned the

significance of appearing “deadpan.”

M.J. Iuppa’s fifth full length poetry collection The Weight of Air (Kelsay Books) was released in September 2022; a chapbook of 24 100-word stories, Rock. Paper. Scissors., is forthcoming from Foothills Publishing.  For the past 34 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.