Lisa Lopez Snyder


Lisa Lopez Snyder lives in Columbus, Ohio, where she is at work on a novel and a collection of essays. Her work has been featured in The Raleigh ReviewThe Foliate Oak Literary MagazineThe ScramblerGravelThe 34th Parallel and other publications. Her essay, “In Transit,” won The Chattahoochee Review’s 2011 Lamar York Prize for Nonfiction. She received her MFA in fiction from the University of South Carolina and was named the 2015 Carl Sandburg Writer-in-Residence. 

Still Standing


1.    After midnight, near the coast of Northern Chile. January 1998.

When Nora woke, the walls shook. Windows splintered in the rooms down the hall of her childhood home. Darkness turning upside down. Was her native Chile angry with her for leaving it behind to live in the United States? There was a certain delusion in the eerie claps of collapsing brick and stone, but the screams outside the house pitched louder, and echoed down Santiago’s narrow streets. A dog barked, and the distant thud of slamming doors and running footsteps soon became engulfed by loud knocks on Nora’s front door. The knocks stopped abruptly. Footsteps picked up again along the stone walkways, thudding down stairways and out into the streets.

 She rushed with sleepy fear to her oldest daughter’s bedroom. Clicked on the light. Soon Nora and her daughter joined others in the street, where they heard the cries of the people who made it safely out of crumbling buildings, the silence from those who did not. When the sun rose, they saw the haze of smoke and ash, they heard the rush of pipes bursting, and within days, packs of boys scrambled into abandoned grocery stores to grab water and food.


2. Northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C. 1997.

Nora weathered a downsizing at the Spanish-language newspaper where she worked as an editor and reporter covering health and social justice issues. She was in her early 50s, I in my mid-30s, a Chicana from the Midwest. Despite the layoff, Nora continued to write, working as a freelancer and as a regular consultant editor and translator to several federal health agencies. We met through one of these projects, and became fast friends, two women with full-time health care editorial consultant practices. While our contacts were frequent, they were mostly by phone and email—she from her home in Fairfax, me from my one-bedroom in the city.

Our occasional lunches were often hurried affairs to discuss upcoming projects. Nora’s mind worked at break-neck speed. “Something new,” she’d say. “Work with me.” Together we’d draft documents on interviews I conducted or articles I wrote, me writing them in English, she translating them into Spanish, and vice versa. When she started a Spanish-language supplement to the newspaper she used to edit, she subcontracted with me to write the health column.

Meanwhile, her husband Pietro began his battle against a number of chronic diseases that demanded Nora’s every spare moment. I never learned what these ailments were—Nora never wanted to say much about Pietro’s health—but I knew they were debilitating concerns. A tireless reporter, she spent hours talking with doctors and researching treatment options. In the midst of minding his illnesses, Nora managed all her projects and deadlines with seeming ease, until at last, she experienced her own shocking set of circumstances. One day she emailed those of us close to her. “Dear friends and family, I have breast cancer,” she wrote in her signature straightforward manner.

There was little that followed this simple declarative, only a few sentences related to a set of treatments she was talking about with the doctors. Of course, she had researched many options, and was seeking second opinions. Her occasional messages became a string of the familiar: “…another doctor visit…the radiation…now chemo...remission.” She resisted all visitors but family.


3.    No te preocupes. Always.

“I can take care of myself, and I have my daughters to help me,” she said. But how could I not worry? Cancer is the most cunning of illnesses. It starts as a quiet poison, germinating who knows where.

She fought the toxins over the next few yearsand during the hell of it all she began to paint, filling her studio with sweeps of colored canvasses. She emailed me photos of her paintings. Dark tones that conveyed a woman caught in the madness of disease, her arms above her head. Blues that showed a woman fly-fishing in an angry river, casting her net to recovery. In sandy shades, they were forceful crimsons and unyielding salmons. The colors became strands and waves, fringed edges, ripe fruits. They were wavering; they were still.


4.    Ohio and Washington, D.C. 2000-2005.

I moved back to my home state of Ohio. Our collaborations began to slow as our projects changed, and our email exchanges became more focused around art and nature. I had moved to the college town of my alma mater in southeast Ohio, near the Appalachian foothills. I sent Nora dispatches about my writing and observations about the move from city to country—to the college town of my alma mater in southeast Ohio, near the Appalachian foothills—while she sent me images of her artwork, and her wishing me well. I travelled back to Washington to visit friends. One late morning, I stood on her doorstep.

“Ay, corazón.”  

Nora greeted me with a long hug and a flurry of sentimientos. She looked much the same, only softer, her brown hair short and loose. It was just the two of us in her dining room, but Nora had laden the breakfast table as though prepared for a feast. There were individual plates of scones, bananas, sweet pastry, and slices of cheese. “Here,” she said, sliding a small plate of grapes and homemade biscuits toward me. “Eat, eat.”

We had never been like this before, Nora and I, together without people to interview or deadlines to meet. The stillness around us felt odd at first, then gradually comforting. She told me that in one, maybe two years, she would finish with consulting, not once saying the word “retirement.”

“I plan to take some journeys in the next year or two,” she said. “Soon, I’m going to Petra,” and she brought her hands together in a loud clap.  

She picked up a large book from the table and showed me photographs of the 2,000-year-old stone metropolis, settled and created in the Jordanian desert by once nomadic Arabian traders called Nabataeans. Once a thriving city, Petra remains an engineering feat of monumental temples, statues, columns and chambers, structures that the Nabataeans had hand-chiseled into the sandstone cliffs. The Nabataeans had also developed a sophisticated aqueduct fed by three larger springs outside of Petra, a system that archeologists today say carried an estimated 12 million gallons of fresh spring water each day.

Petra’s ruins still tower in grandeur, emerging from red sandstone in a great rift valley south of the Dead Sea. A city of permanence, the book said, one of the world’s most significant and largest archaeological sites in red sandstone.

“An oasis,” Nora said.

 I could hear Pietro sleeping in the next room, his breath slow and labored.

“He insists,” Nora said.


5.    Petra. 2006.

A few months after Pietro died, Nora left for Petra, her daughter and grandchildren by her side. “I can’t even begin to describe this place,” she wrote. “It is a crossroads of an ancient world.”

In Petra, Nora came alive again among the ruins. I pictured her arms holding the camera, aimed at the residue of disaster that remains momentous today, a connection between people and the earth, but for the Nabataeans, ultimately a defeat of their precious work when a mighty earthquake shook Petra to its roots, leaving coins and bones and crushed ceramics to litter now excavated rooms.

“Earthquakes and tremors are in our DNA,” Nora had written, back when she survived the earthquake in her hometown less than 10 years earlier. “But there was a powerful alarm this time,” she said, “and there was no intuition that could have saved us from the land and the sea’s fury. This time, mother nature did not recognize us.”

Nor did she realize, I thought, our utter resilience.



© The Acentos Review 2018