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The Ash Can
The Ash Can © I got the call on Sunday night. I was traveling on business. When I looked at the caller ID I wondered why my husband’s boss would be calling me. I was unprepared for what he told me and my legs turned to water when he said that my husband was dead. ‘A heart attack? An accident?’ I asked. ‘No’, he said, ‘John committed suicide. They found him in your garage this morning.’ I heard someone screaming and wished that they would stop so I could hear the rest. His voice was very far away and the woman just kept screaming. ‘Shut up! Shut up!’ I need to hear. I clapped my hand over my mouth when I suddenly realized it was me who was screaming. I don’t remember hanging up or getting on the plane. (beat) Yes, John and I were having problems and we had been separated for about three months but nothing was official. After thirty years of marriage I never believed that we couldn’t weather this and share the rest of our lives together. This was just a phase he was going through…some sort of mid-life crisis. This had to be some horrible mistake, a case of mistaken identity. My John would never do this, leave me like this. (beat) I stumbled into our home around nine the next morning. The house looked like a woman hadn’t lived there for months. Dirty dishes in the sink, groceries half put away, empty beer cans and a full ashtray by John’s chair. Seeking comfort I walked over to his chair. Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of a reflection in the mirror over the fireplace. Some wild looking woman with mascara smudges under her eyes and smeared lipstick looked out at me. I walked closer to inspect this stranger in my house. She looked old and used up. Who was she? What had life dealt her to look so worn out? Oh, God, it was me. Staring out with those eyes bleeding hot, raw pain. (beat) I curled up in John’s chair and closed my eyes. Was this all I had left of my husband? This slightly shabby piece of furniture that still smelled of him? How could I tell our children? Could I bear to go into the garage? What would I find? I knew that they had taken his body away but what had they left there for me to see? Maybe something there would prove that this was truly a mistake. I rose to my feet and walked into the kitchen and through the laundry room to the garage door. (beat) I slowly opened it and was knocked back by the remaining stink of gas fumes. John’s car sat in its parking spot, the garden hose hanging from the back window like some obscene snake. I gagged and pressed the button to open the garage door. The passenger side window was open so I could look inside without having to touch the car. And what I saw on the seat told it all. There was John’s cell phone, an empty bottle of Vodka and a bottle of Excedrin. (beat) And something else…a second cell phone…what in the world? I was only allowed five seconds of blissful denial before it all came crashing down on me. The second phone…the secret phone that men who cheat keep to talk to their lovers. All those protestations he offered during the time that we were apart. ‘No, there was no one else’, ‘I just need to find myself’, ‘I don’t want a divorce’, ‘I just need some time’. ‘I love you; I’m just not in love with you.’ Lies, all lies! How could I have been so stupid? Then I notice a crumpled manila envelope on the floor of the car. Anger driven, I opened the door and picked up the envelope and the two cell phones and went back into the house. Sitting in John’s chair once again, I smoothed out the envelope and read what was written there. ‘Ricky, tell Sherry I love her. Tell Sherry I can’t live without her. Tell Sherry not to cry for me. Sherry, I’ll love you forever. I’m sorry.....John-Boy.’ Who the hell was Sherry? Did my husband of three decades kill himself over some tramp? Some other woman whom he barely knew? I picked up the second cell phone and scanned the history of calls. Where was area code 864? As I set the phone down my eye caught the partial title of a book lying on the rug under the table. Picking it up, I read: ‘How To Keep A Long Distance Relationship Exciting and New.’ I opened it to the first few pages and found an inscription, ‘To my tiny dancer, until we meet again. Love forever, your John-Boy.’ My God, John, how could you? How could you do this to us? I yelled as I threw the book across the room; will this hellish nightmare never end? (beat) I picked up the cell phone and scrolled down the history; Sherry Hoffman, Sherry Hoffman, Sherry Hoffman, Sherry Hoffman. No other woman, huh, John? South Carolina…hence the long distance relationship…you’re such a fool, I told myself. There was voice mail saved and I listened to the most current ones. Those messages told a story of a married woman who had a son and a new grandchild. Another sad, pedestrian story of a restless woman trapped in a loveless marriage but unwilling to leave. The daughter-in-law apparently would not let Sherry see the child. It seemed that John, in a misplaced attempt to help, called Sherry’s son to insist that he let Sherry see her grand-baby. Only to succeed in blowing up that family. The final message was not so sweet and sexy from his lover. Sherry had dumped my husband. (beat) I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I seemed to be trapped in a crazed, unbelievable soap opera. But what is it that they say about truth being stranger than fiction? I sighed. John had always wanted to rescue anyone in trouble…even when they didn’t ask for help. He had crossed the line calling that woman’s son. Oh, John, what were you thinking?, I asked the empty room. Didn’t you know? You were her dirty little secret.... (more) (from my book, Monologues 4 Women)
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