May 29, 2009

If They Knew [jessi]

“No one would love me if they knew all the things I hide.”

It’s a line from an old Caedmon’s Call song that creeps back into my consciousness every so often, because it’s such an honest sentiment. Seriously—show me a man who says he has nothing to hide, and I’ll show you the biggest liar in the Western Hemisphere. The minute we started throwing open the closet doors, and dragging out his past he (if such a person exists) would beg for a halt to the process. It doesn’t really matter what’s in there. It might be an uncontrollable temper, an addiction, or something as innocuous as a misspoken word that only he remembers. But fear of judgment is strong. And with each other’s weaknesses, we are nothing if not judgmental.

It’s the relative goodness we are comparing, as if the seriousness of your sin can be placed on a sliding scale, and God grades us all on a curve. Only the truth is my redemption can’t possibly be found in having sin that is somehow “less bad” than yours, and we both know it. My storage unit full of shortcomings (heated, and 10 x 25 feet) is as crippling to me as yours is to you, regardless of what is contained therein.

So what are we left with, then? A general feeling of worthlessness that we just can’t shake, now that all attempts to justify ourselves in our own eyes have failed. And so I stuff my faults and bad habits, and trot out just enough of my quirks to make myself seem genuine to people, and I’ll use words like “authenticity” and “transparency” in hopes that by proxy I’ll be associated with those things, without actually having to go through the pain and vulnerability that is required for either. After all, “no one would love me if they knew…”

It never occurs to me to question that perhaps I’m searching for approval in the wrong place. That my desire to be loved not because of anything I do, but just because isn’t wrong of itself, just misdirected.

I was re-reading C.S. Lewis’ essay “Weight of Glory” last week, and he says,

To please God…to be a real ingredient in the divine happiness…to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father in a son—it seems impossible, a weight or burden of glory which our thoughts can hardly sustain. But so it is.
Lewis goes on to talk about the promise of glory in scripture is simply being noticed by God, and that to be noticed, known and loved is the pinnacle of our existence. So it seems that my people-pleasing tendencies, the ones that motivate me to cover up the less than stellar aspects of myself, have some sort of purpose after all. That when properly directed, and with a child-like innocence, that desire to please can itself create pleasure for my creator. May we all focus our needs for approval to such an end. If we have praise from our Creator, what need do we have to worry about praise from anyone else?

...continue reading...

Not a Word [jake]

Not a word.
Talking to me as if keeping a secret.
I had never seen him with her before,
And I could tell he didn't want to see me—
Avoidant eyes.
Something about it felt wrong from the start,
But I knew not to ask,
So I didn't;
Not one word.
And what plagues my thoughts
Too often escapes my prayers.

[“I don’t talk so great,” Moses said,
“And when they ask, what should I tell ‘em?” Moses said.
You gave him but one word,
And yet I still hear who

The funeral procession,
Disguised as a parade:
I felt it marching through me again.
Is it the land that enables such a cavalcade?
Is it the people?
Is it me?
My lips flap as banners celebrating
A homecoming;
But the wind is violent as I am hating
How much I want to be loved
In every word, saying nothing.
Not a word.
Is it any wonder that I bury my head?
I don't want I don't want I want to be heard.

[I know that when they led You, bleeding,
You said nothing,
Not a word.
You said so much.]

I wanted her lips for {my} kiss,
I think. Well,
I want lips to kiss,
I mean. It's immaterial to {me} whose they are.
I suppose that's wrong, but
I don't know how to say it rightly.
I wanted it badly, but
I knew better, so
I didn't say a thing.
I didn’t say a word—
Thank goodness.

[Would You kiss my cracking lips, O God?
They are dry and dying on depleted speech
And snake oil lovers with lips like a leech.]

The internet feels like loneliness;
You’ve been quoting woeful poetry in pensive reflection.
I won't waste my poems on a status update,
But I am sorry about what happened.
(And I didn't think that I would be.)
I wanted to know why, and to ask how you were;
I wanted to,
But I knew better,
So I didn't.
Not a single word
For a suddenly single woman.
I do feel lonely for you,
And I know he should’ve known better.
    (Can modern people
Truly know, truly love, truly speak?—
I say so much and
Not a word says anything.)
We all should love better,
I know; we all should know better.

[God, how can You say so much in one word?
You say everything.]

...continue reading...

May 26, 2009

Tree [julie]

We start out together
I am you and you are me
Like two siblings playing in the street
Blissfully ignorant of how short it will last
The innocence breaks
The weight of separation divides us
I can do it on my own
Unwilling to be a part of something greater
Spending my time giving pieces of myself here and there
A chance to make my own destiny
Scattered and thinned out tissue paper stems
Fading out into the skyline
Too divided and too lost to know who I am
I never saw you
Through every break, every disappointing investment
Following me down my misguided paths
You were there
I am you and you are me

...continue reading...

May 22, 2009

When You Can't [nate]


When you can’t sleep your kitchen is always clean. So is your car, your living room, your bedroom, and anywhere else you can get your hands on. When you can’t sleep your hair is always clean. Clean, though, is all a matter of perspective. My hair is clean, yes, because with the amount of time gained from not sleeping, I found myself showering quite often. My hands, though, while clean to the eye, were dirty the moment I plotted the death of the man Stacy is now living with, and when I acted on it, they could never be clean again.


When you can’t sleep you replay events over and over. When I walked in on Stacy with a different man, the first thing I said was, “Hello.” Since then, I’ve thought of thousands of different things I could have said. At the beginning, for the first few nights after it happened, I imagined violence. I thought of things to scream and what in the area I could have thrown and whether I could have taken the guy if it came down to that. I remembered the way the blinds were closed in the bedroom. His pants were lying on the floor, bundled up against the closet, thrown from the bed. I remember my wife’s eyes, and the way she stared, and how she didn’t say a word. It was the thought of those eyes that turned me from violence to remorse, and I thought of new things I could have said. It was in these deepest moments of remorse that I began to imagine exactly how I would do it, replaying each step in my head. When you can’t sleep you become a master of imagination.


“James, I’m calling the police,” she said.

“Please don’t,” I said.


When you can’t sleep you have plenty of time to plan. At first I planned new shelves for my kitchen. Once they were built, I painted every wall in my new apartment. This led me to redoing the floors in the entire place. When you can’t sleep, you learn to plan. You learn to account for all variables. You learn that you need to be prepared for anything to happen. You learn to buy extra paint, a couple extra pieces of flooring for the times you cut wrong, and you learn how to react when your ex-wife comes home three hours early from work and you’re standing in her kitchen with a handgun shoved in the back of your pants. You don’t expect these things to happen, but you plan for them. You know when she says, “What are you doing here?” you can say, and mean it, “I just wanted to talk to you.” You know she won’t want to talk, and you can get out safely.


Sometimes, when you can’t sleep you make new friends. The apartment complex I live in is made up about seven or so separate two-story buildings that all hold four apartments. Two on top, two on bottom. There is a pool and office building in the middle. On nights where I could not stand the dark and empty silence of my apartment I would walk the slinking sidewalks that stretch between the buildings joining them together. It was these walks that lead me to meeting Richard, the groundskeeper for the apartment.

Richard is a habitually sick man. He explained this to me on one of the first times I met him. He said that it is not something that has come with his age, but has been a part of his life for as long as he can remember. He explained that it feels like an endless rotation. Wake up with some new ailment, go to a doctor, run tests, take pills, feel better, and wake up sick. He was married too, once, but that ended quickly. I instantly felt I could trust him. I told him everything.


When you can’t sleep you question yourself. On those nights, sitting up in bed, I wondered if it was all my fault. I thought that maybe, perhaps, I was preparing to kill the wrong person.


“James, you have a gun,” she said.

“I know, I’m sorry. I wasn’t even going to do it,” I said.


Sometimes I imagined that I did attack.

“What the fuck,” I would shout. My wife would quickly pull the sheets up to her chest and he would scramble for his pants across the room. As he stumbles forward, I catch him in the chest with my knee. This would send him flying backwards onto the bed and I would grab the lamp from the nightstand and smash it across his face, all the while my wife would scream.

The attack played differently every time. Sometimes, I would catch him before he even got out of bed. Sometimes, it began with shouting and escalated to punches thrown. When you can’t sleep you’re the toughest man in the room.


When you can’t sleep the ability to reason is lost.

“You see man,” Richard said, watering some flowers, “when the body defies the mind, it’s heartbreaking.”

“What do you mean?” I said.

“Take an athlete for example. An Olympic runner. They train their whole lives for one race. When they get to that race, they know they are the best. To them, no one is better. But when that gun goes off and they fail to even place, they can’t understand.”

“What does that have to do with anything?” I said.

“Everything. I’ve done it a million times. Every time I wake up sick, I’m prepared. I know the routine. But you, you’ve got it backwards.”


I went over every detail. At precisely 2:00 P.M on Tuesday, September 13th, I would enter his house through the back door. By 2:04 I would have found him, most likely working in his bedroom. I would lead him, at gunpoint, to the basement so no one will hear the shots. At 2:07 I would force him to apologize. By 2:10 I would have fired two shots into his chest, and one into his head. By 2:15 I would have pulled the car back into his garage, and removed the tarp from my trunk. I would leave the trunk open. The body would be wrapped in the tarp. By 2:30 I would have drag the body out of the basement, and shut it in my trunk. Before leaving, I would dismantle the handgun into three different pieces. The first part, the clip, would be discarded on the highway approximately ten miles from the on-ramp near his house. The second part, the barrel, which can be removed quite easily with the press of two simple buttons, would be thrown into the river while crossing. The third, and final part, the handle and firing mechanism, would be buried fifty yards from where I would be burying the body, at approximately, depending on traffic, 3:15. By 3:45 I will be home, and my problem would be solved.


The inability to sleep is typically the side effect of some larger problem. In women, the increase in hormones before and after menopause can affect sleep. So can drug use and abuse. A change in environment or sleeping conditions can hurt your ability to sleep. Jet lag can too. Schizophrenia, bipolar disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and a whole slew of other mental problems can result in a lack of sleep. There is a rare intestinal parasite that can hinder sleep. An over active mind and large amounts of stress are not conducive to sleeping. When you can’t sleep you have plenty of time to do research.


When you can’t sleep you miss your dreams. Richard tried telling me that sometimes it is better to live in our dreams and our thoughts and our ideas rather than the real world. I told him that I couldn’t, the real was all I had.


“Well then what should I do?” she said.

“I’ll just leave, this never happened,” I said.


Around 2:00 AM one morning I heard a knock on my door. It was Richard. He looked awful.

“I knew you’d be up,” he said.

“You ok?” I said.

“Look, can you take me to the hospital? I don’t know what it is, but I feel like shit. I don’t feel like driving,” he said.

“Should I call an ambulance?” I said.

“Don’t bother. You could use something to do anyway,” he said.


When you can’t sleep you try everything. Sleeping pills don’t work. They just make you incoherent. Soothing music is a distraction. I rented movies. I tried writing. I got so drunk that I spent two hours in the bathroom puking.


I don’t like to think about what really happened. I don’t like that I said hello and my wife stared at me coldly and the man slowly got off of her and lay down beside her and I turned and walked out of the house and drove to my parents to sleep on the couch in the basement.

In truth, I like to imagine that I simply said, then and there, “Why?”


“You know I can’t do that,” she said.

“Please? Look, this was a mistake, I know. I mean, I haven’t been sleeping much lately and-“


The smell of the hospital made me nauseous. When I found Richard’s room, he was asleep. He was connected to several machines. I woke him up.

“How ya feeling?” I said.

“Oh, not much right now, honestly. They’ve got me on so much different shit.”

“Must be nice,” I said.

“You going to go through with it?” he said.

“Yes. I think so,” I said.

Richard sighed and rubbed one of the tubes connected to his arm in between his fingers.

“You think you’re the first man to lose his wife?” he said.

“No, I know, I mean, I know you –“

He sat up a little bit in his bed.

“If you’re going to kill him, why don’t you shoot her too?” he said.

“Look, the sarcasm is not going to help,” I said.

“No really, why don’t you go kill all the men who have ever slept with someone’s wife. Will that make you feel better?” he said.

“What am I supposed to do then?” I said.

“Get some sleep,” he said, and a nurse came in and switched the IV bag and I left.


When you can’t sleep you talk to God. You ask him who’s right and who’s wrong and what to do and how to do it. You ask him if it’s right to kill, sometimes. You ask everything you’ve ever wanted to ask, and when you receive no answer, you ask even more. You try to fight back any notion of self-realization that there are people around the world that are suffering more than you and you resolve to do what has to be done regardless and then maybe, just maybe, you can go to sleep.


I was standing in his kitchen when she walked in. He wasn’t even home. I had waited for over an hour for him when she came in. She didn’t believe I was there to talk. She thought I was there to do something childish, like break or steal something. When I turned to try and leave, she saw the gun. This was not something I had planned. She was remarkably calm.


When you can’t sleep you stare at the clock.


“James, seriously, a gun? Who were you planning to shoot?”

“I wasn’t going to shoot anyone.”

“How can you stand there and lie to me? You’re holding a gun. Was it me or him?”


“You think this is his fault? You’re worse than ever.”

“But –“

“You know what? No, just go. Go back to your little apartment.”


When I got home, Richard was watering some plants outside my apartment. He looked fine.

“You O.K?” I said.

“Yeah, I’m fine, of course,” he said and turned and looked at me, “How did it go?”

“He wasn’t home. She caught me,” I said.

“She let you go? Nice woman,” he said.

I started to walk towards my apartment door.

“Gonna try again?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

Standing inside, I looked out the window, and saw Richard happily coiling the length of hose, and I looked around my apartment, and decided the floor really could use a good cleaning.

...continue reading...

Namaste, My Brethren [judd]

Lying on my mat, the lights turned low, I feel like I’m back in Miss Warfel’s Kindergarten class at Pine Street Elementary. Quiet time. Only, unlike when I was 5, this quiet time is welcome.

It’s Wednesday lunchtime in work-a-day America. To my right lies our accounting director, on my left a department manager, across the room a couple of IT programmers and an administrative assistant.

We’re all as relaxed and calm as we will be all day, perhaps all week, until we find ourselves back here with Lori.

Lori, our yoga instructor.

How do I feel about Lori? It’s hard to say. She’s more than just an instructor, but she’s not really a mentor or spiritual guide.

She’s a teacher. Like Miss Warfel. Except it’s my choice to be here.

Most of the time I feel like a yoga Kindergartner. Even when we started a new series of yoga classes, and some new people joined us, I still felt like a beginner.

When we’re doing our sun-salutes (reach up, bend to the floor, head up, lower to the floor, up dog, down dog), Lori still comes around to me and gently urges my shoulders apart, pushes down on my lumbar, forcing me to both relax and work harder.

That’s one of the paradoxes of yoga. As I work harder, as I push myself and stretch myself, I am more comfortable, more satisfied. I reach a little higher, finding myself elevated and freer.

As we go through the sun salutes, the down dogs get more difficult, my arms start to tremble a bit, I hope not visibly, but no one is watching anyway. We are all on our own mats in our own spaces, just me and the teacher. Henry the programmer is alone with the teacher. Barb the secretary is over there with the teacher. Janet the CPA is right next to me with her teacher.

All the teachers are Lori and somehow we are all together but we are all having a one-on-one with Lori.

Their arms may be trembling too. Barb, who is a bit older than me, tells me that sometimes she has to take breaks. But I don’t see it.

It’s me, the down dog, and Lori.

And my breathing.

Breathe. Lori has taught us to breathe, or to be aware of our breathing. Sometimes we do an exercise where we just sit and breathe. We are to meditate on our breathing and only on our breathing. Lori reads to us from a yoga master.

“As I breathe in I say to myself ‘I am breathing in’.” Lori’s voice is soothing, like a Miss Warfel for grown-ups. “As I breathe out I say to myself ‘I am breathing out’.”

Or, Lori tells us, just think “in” as you breathe in and “out” as you breathe out.

Simple? No. It’s incredibly difficult to stay in that moment. My mind wants to wander to everything that happened in the morning, everything that’s coming in the afternoon, the sandwich that’s waiting for me after class (I have tomato to go on my turkey and swiss....yeah!), band practice at church that night, the damn report I forgot to write for church council...

But I come back to in and out, in and out.

Yoga takes the simplest, most fundamental act we do and can control -- our breathing -- and turns it into a spiritual tool.

For an hour each week, I get down to what is essential. For an hour each week I consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air.


I don’t know how far I’ll plumb the depths of yoga. I’m interested in the Sanskrit and the philosophy but have yet to pursue it.

For now, it’s a simple start to a complex path.

And that’s okay.

No one is expecting me to recite chapter and verse from a Sanskrit yoga holy book.

No one is judging my enlightenment on whether I serve on a committee or buy a chicken barbeque ticket.

No one tells me I’m sitting on the wrong yoga mat or that I’m not wearing the right clothes for yoga or that I need to concentrate harder on my breathing.

Still, it’s so hard to let go of old thoughts and patterns.

One holds me tightly in its grip. I long to please and to be affirmed. I want to be complimented by Lori. I want to be able to hold my balance pose longer than the other students. I want the new students to look at my Warrior 2 pose as a shining example.

Truthfully, I want to be noticed. (Doesn’t every writer want this, at some level?)

Yoga didn’t teach me this; I’ve known it for a long time. I like being the center of attention. I want to sing solos in church. I draw affirmation from cracking a joke at a meeting. I want to come up with the best idea and not just because that idea might help my company or my work team or my family. I want everyone to say, “Judd had the best idea.”

Hooray for me.

Something strange, however, happened the other day in class. Lori singled me out as we were trying, toward the end of a lesson, to do a pose that only comes with lots of practice. We were all having some fun and laughing a bit as we tried this difficult exercise.

Somehow, I happened to get fairly close to doing it. Lori complimented me and all eyes in the class turned toward me.

And it felt uncomfortable. I was the center of attention and I didn’t like it. I was not where I wanted to be, alone on my mat, just me and the teacher.

Is it possible that yoga is making me a better person? I think that is answered best by another question. Would it be possible to become a worse person by trying something, like yoga, that stretches me and challenges me?

No, anything that challenges us makes us stronger. Any time we spend slowing down, calming ourselves, getting back in touch with our natural rhythms benefits us and, as a result, those around us.


At the end of each class, Lori closes with one word... namaste. (Pronounced NAHM-uh-stay) There are various interpretations, one of which is “The divine in me sees the divine in you.”

It’s all so Christ-like. The holiness in me recognizing the holiness in you. God incarnate within each of us, recognizing the Christ living in you. Taking time to find my inner child of God so I can better see the God-child in you.

Namaste, my brothers. Namaste, my sisters.

...continue reading...

May 19, 2009

Learning to Fly [kory]

Trapped in the walls of my self patrolled prison
I peer toward the heavens to ask “Where are you now?”

You bestow blessing, my heart recognizes
As I look at my future with the eyes of my past

Your blood makes me worthy
I pray you believe that
The darkness of lies cloaks the truth of your light

The shame of my innocence heckles me gently
I stand at the edge
My feet rise from the ground

The end of this torment is closing in quickly
I wish I had wings
No turning back now

I scream for your rescue
You quiet my spirit
Night time is over
Your new day is here.

...continue reading...

May 15, 2009

Fishin' [joshua]

Thunder started as Aaron let the door of the William Penn swing shut while Cecil slipped through. The street was cold and the air was clear after the sweepers came by. Cecil stopped to pick up his phone and put it in his pocket.

"So it's your last night, Cecil."

"Yeah, we should hit up Peoria."

"Anywhere but in that place."

"Never saw those guys before."

The car wouldn't start again. Cecil got out to bang on the starter with a wrench. Aaron turned the key after each whack. Started on the fourth try. They drove to seventh and then to fourth and took alleys the rest of the way. It started raining between Chestnut and Montreal. It was the first storm of the season.

Aaron ran up the fire escape to start the oven. Cecil came in and dropped his keys on the table.

"Sure is coming down," he said.

Aaron came to the screen door. They stood there watching the rain come down over the porch, on the alley, over the rooftops, and all the way to the pike. They could see the rain falling on Jeff's Swamp, past Peoria.

"Supposed to rain all week," said Aaron.

"I'll be long gone," said Cecil.

"Friggin' Kashmir," said Aaron, "Dang it."

"Lash's out in the swamp," said Cecil, "fishin'."

"We oughta go," Aaron said.

Cecil went to the living room. TV on. Email up. Aaron shut the door and put the pizza in. The hall was long.

"What's the big deal?" Aaron asked.

"Nothin'. Just seems like there's no point," said Cecil.

"We used to go all the time."

"It's my last day."

"Want some citron?" Aaron asked.

"Sure," said Cecil, "What's the status of your folks?"

"Ain't good," Aaron called down the hall, "I watched two NASCAR races last week - first time ever."

"You're kidding," said Cecil.

"No. There's more there than meets the eye," said Aaron.

"Not much more," said Cecil.

"No, but more," said Aaron.

Aaron set the pizza down on the floor and poured Cecil's glass full. Then he poured his own glass. They sat on the couch a long time without saying anything, drinking citron and listening to the rain.

"I love those pieces of peel at the bottom," said Aaron.

"I wonder what the difference is between citron and orange," said Cecil.

"Guess you'll find out in Kashmir," said Aaron, "I wish you woulda married that Christine chick."

"Impossible. She slept through everything," said Cecil.

"Lucky her," said Aaron.

"So, how'd you get the shiner?" asked Cecil.

"Baseball. First pitch of the game. Figgers," said Aaron.

"Can't believe I didn't notice it earlier," said Cecil.

"You didn't look at me," said Aaron.

Cecil left the room. Aaron could hear him opening and shutting dresser drawers down the hall. There were two rooms between the living room and kitchen. First Cecil's bedroom, then the bathroom. The hallway was long and there were four closets.

"Hello!" called Lash, banging on the door.

"Holy crap!" said Cecil as he let Lash in, "nice fish!"

Aaron started down the hall. He could hear the boys laughing.

"Well I'll be --," said Aaron, "Jeff's Swamp comes through again."

"No kidding," said Lash.

Lash held four large brook trout all strung together on the lace from his left boot. He was soaking wet. Aaron smiled.

"Nothing like a nice catch to take away the pain," said Aaron.

Cecil stood quietly.

"Cheer up," said Lash, "fish'll always be there."

Lash grabbed a pan and a knife and went out to the porch to gut his trout. Aaron went back to the living room. Cecil followed.

"More citron?" asked Cecil.

"Sure," said Aaron.

"So, is it the end or what?" Cecil asked.

Aaron stared, sipping his citron.

"It's like he thinks we're still kids and it's got nothing to do with us. Grown-up business. That way he doesn't have to feel so guilty."

The next day Aaron drove over to pick up Sandy. She hopped in and kissed him on the cheek. They drove downtown, past seventh, across fourth, and took alleys to the drug store. Aaron parked the car and sat staring out the windshield.

"What's wrong?" Sandy asked.

Aaron was crying.

"He was my friend," he said.

The rain started coming down. Before long it was hail. Big balls were falling all around, bouncing off the car and making an enormous ruckus. There was thunder, and lightning.

...continue reading...

Catacombs [jason]

echoes ring down empty chambers of musty catacombs
scents of dirt and dust in damp shield the hallowed hollow
stacked in walls,
   withered and dry,
   the wounded memories loom
and they hint to the living,
   of the unforgiving grave,
   grip and swallow

and still she follows down darkened hollow passageways,
   a torch
illuminating bones and marrow of death and sorrow,
her thoughts and feelings,
   dead and unliving,
   resulting from the search
for love or life or laughter kept thereof
   in the paths of her mind's dark keeping

the paths designed for weeping,
   wrap deep and wallow in guilt
and still she follows the shapeless specter
   carrying the flickering flame
seeking life, peace or joy amidst ancient underground ruins built
to house in unescapable lonely chambers,
   the pain and shame

so I call out her name,
   to come out from below and into the sun
to leave the quest for life in the mistakes of the past
and seek new love of light above
   because the curse of death is undone
   and answers lie within the eyes of one who calls her name at last
   and breaks free the chains that dead damned demons cast

...continue reading...

May 12, 2009

Tripwires and Detonations [tony]

as my Name spears
out of the mouths
of my loved ones
I start to ponder
if what is about to be said
is harmful to my heart and
puzzling to my mind

and as I begin to feel
about this terrible thought
I start to daze off
to a Netherland of wandering
and Daydreams

I am ready to focus once again
and recall these false Accusations
that are Convincingly seeping through
these loved ones teeth

what are now skeletons to me
feeling alone they begin to rape
my innocent ears with such a toxin

I dare not to listen

as it enters my mind
it shuts down my body
and now I am nothing more
than a dead skeleton

I beg of you
to send your powerful wind down
from your courageous mountains
and let these lifeless Bones that lie here
on this forsaken Valley floor
take breath of life once again

...continue reading...

May 8, 2009

Open Hands [liz]

I fight the urge to close my fist

And pull you to my way

Not in time, but now I want

Forever to start today

Let my fingers lose the fight

Open like a flower

Sun reflects the beauty of its color

Wind is freedom’s mover

With tight fists my eyes squint shut

My vision most impaired

I lose sight of my surroundings

Even you are not so clear

Could I hold you in one place,

Even if I tried?

Life is changing; life is moving

We are better for each step

There was a time I waited without sleep

For your touch to find my heart

But now I must let lovers be

As being is apart

I tell my hand it’s never over

And slowly show my palm

Gone from here, but there we see

Liberty rests in open space

...continue reading...

May 5, 2009

Memories Everywhere [teddi]

One thick, humid August morning I woke up and realized that all of my friends were gone. They had packed their cars up and boarded airplanes and now were far away from my embrace. I would walk around the house and constantly be reminded of memories. Memories. Memories everywhere. Nothing would ever be the same again. I was lonely and I was alone.


A few weeks later, my first day of college began. With an ache in my heart I trudged through what would now be my new life. I walked into the wrong buildings and I got lost all the time. I thought if I had to smile at one more stranger my face would shatter. I wanted to wear a sign around my neck answering those asinine questions so I would not have to say them 50 times a day. "I am Teddi. I’m a freshman. I’m a Psychology major. What about you?" I knew nothing and no one. I was treading in the shallow end with no deep connections and no familiar faces.

I joined the swim team. After long autumn days I loved taking the long walk to the pool, leaves crunching beneath my feet. I would throw my long hair in a swim cap and dive into the cool blue water. All I could hear then was the faint blowing of whistles and the splashing of water as I moved one arm in front of the next. One more stride. One more stride. Before I would flip off the wall I’d look up at Mary, our coach. She’d give a huge grin and say, “Just keep going.”

That’s what I did. I just kept going. I swam and swam, literally, and figuratively. I swam the Olympic pool till my joints were sore. I swam through everything else; homework, interactions, lessons, conversations, joys, tears, exams, failures, successes and blessings. I swam like a fish in streams of possibility and adventure. I swam and swam.

Then one day came it out of nowhere. Lifting my head up out of the water to catch a breath, I realized I had peace. I had found contentment with this new place of my life. I was not only content, I was happy. I am not sure when it came. What was I wearing? Was it raining? Was it snowing? Did anyone notice? I could not track peace’s progression. Just one day it was there. It came like a thief in the night only it took nothing. It only gave.


Sitting now in my favorite Professor’s office. We have become close. I have learned to rely on peeking into her office and sitting on the floor, up against the large bookcase for an afternoon visit. I tell her all of this. I tell her about loneliness, about swimming, about finding peace. She had a smirk on her face I did not understand. Then she gave a little laugh and said with light heartedness, “Teddi, you’re just coming alive.”

It was raining the day she said that. Hard drops were hitting the window like quarters falling from the sky. After a hug goodbye, I walked out of her office and my feet were drenched in the deepening puddles collecting on the concrete.

As I walked I thought all of what time had taken and all of what it had allowed. Old friends leaving, ones that I still sincerely miss. New friends being made. Outlets for my passions. Leadership positions. Valuable lessons learned. Tears cried. Jokes made. Deep relationships. A voice found. A school I love. A heart grateful. A hard, challenging, but wonderful nine months.

It is obvious to me that this time is special. I feel unformed, yet deeply moved.
I feel peace and security despite being in continuous growth and movement. I am the happiest I have ever been.

The rain is dying down and sunshine is peaking through the campus trees. I stop and admire the spring scenery and think it’s a perfect day for a swim.


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Apple Tree Blossoms: A Prose Poem [rachel]

I went home for a visit the other day. She came to me, confidently, cheerfully while I was grading essays at the kitchen table. “Do you want a bouquet of flowers?” I was startled by the request. I could think of no occasion. She left the room eagerly and returned from the backyard with an armful of apple tree blossoms. Simple. Sincere. No strings attached.

Not all gifts are so harmless, blessing, innocent. Some are designed to produce a return, an indebtedness. Kind hearted people don’t intend it, but the expense, the implication, the amount of effort makes you feel, makes you feel a need. It’s not hard to tug at my heart strings, to produce that twinge of guilt, that seed of an unhealthy weight. Those strings—they turn gifts dangerous.

Usually the gifts that are most difficult to recover from are the phone calls, the hugs, the tears. Part of my problem might be a reluctance to be loved. But that’s fading, fading. Receiving isn’t toxic; I only thought it was because after hurt I folded up small and slipped into a comfortable box, no love allowed beyond the very surface touch. But . . . now openness is good, arms wide exposing the heart allowing it to fill with beauty love inspired—no box, only open air, blessings falling down from the sky in the form of presence, care, truth.

But when the phone calls, the hugs, the tears are calculated or frantic, are meant to fill a void in the giver, or to meet some deep need, to commandeer some sympathetic emotions—that’s when the toxicity comes. It corrodes the healthy heart and drop by drop guilt pools and grows until the dam breaks; the heart bursts and feels its own need it longs desperately to satisfy.

The best gifts are the simple ones, the ones with no strings attached. Like a hug from my best friend come home from Ohio or a smile from a child. Like a tub of fudge brownie ice cream from my roommate or an art kit from friends. Like a 19th century book of poetry from a sister or a night at the movies from Dad. My favorite gift lately? A bundle of apple tree blossoms from my mother. Wild and unruly. Simple. Sincere. I breathe in their freshness. My, they’re lovely.

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May 1, 2009

I Used to Be Everything [jake]

A small bell rang.

“Hey, I didn’t know you were a runner!” He smiled after me, five or six slabs of sidewalk behind. I turned, breathless, to find him leaning out from behind the metal-framed glass door of a Chinese restaurant; the inside air and the outside air became the same. His electric grin pulled on the hinges of his jaw as his body pulled on the hinges of the door. I wondered how often those hinges would need to be replaced.

What must have been his wife and kids stared from their slimy table; both daughters had lambent blonde hair like their mother.

Something in me was a blaring siren.

He made this declarative statement, about my being a runner, under the assumption that running is what makes one a runner. It isn’t. Much like smoking does not necessarily make somebody a smoker, and eating Chinese food does not make somebody Chinese. My stomach discovered its emptiness as the salty, greasy aroma of chicken and vegetables wafted from the doorway of what used to be a hair salon. The smell was much different then. I used to walk home from school. I remembered passing by the salon, the cloud of hairspray, stinging my nostrils, and the scent of freshly cut hair, warm from a razor or damp from a wetted comb. I wanted to be a fireman then. And a baseball player.

“Well, I used to be a runner,” I explained.

“Used to be a runner?” He was astonished. “What do you mean you ‘used to be a runner’?”

Well, runners train, I thought. Runners have a goal, an objective in mind, I thought. Runners run for the purpose of being better runners; runners race other runners, I thought. I, on the other hand, just recently moved back into town and don’t have a membership to a gym. Besides, I’ve never enjoyed the conventional work out. I run for the purpose of staying healthy, though I actually enjoy it, too. I used to race; I used to be a runner, but not anymore. Granted, I had just run past him when he yelled after me. I was still wearing my sweats, still panting, still running until he caught my attention. I thought all of this, but did not say it.

“That is what I mean.” I did say that.

He nodded slowly, as if his head were resisting his neck’s urge to do so. I could almost hear the mechanic grinding of his rusted iron neck and the squeaking of little gears turning inside of his head. All in all, a machine had turned on that had not been engaged in many years.

“It’s been a long time,” he said, stepping from behind the door but catching it with his foot. It had been a long time. His mind was almost certainly sifting through the same memories as mine, the same filing cabinet of photo albums and high school class projects, the same dates and pranks and made-up games. Just about anything two best friends could have experienced in high school, we experienced together. I remembered freshman year and the first time we interacted, sitting together in first period Algebra. We cracked jokes from the back corner of the room, too tired to commit to mathematics, but awake enough to mock our teacher’s awful toupee. I remembered detention after detention after detention and how furious my mother used to get. We both rode the bus home from school that year. I remembered my first girlfriend, Jen; I remembered his first car. He used to love that car. He only let me borrow his car once ever (so I could pick up my tux at the last possible minute); I was supposed to pick him and Jen up from his house so we could rush to dinner and then to prom that night. I remembered her glowing blonde hair—beautiful, even messed up. My friend and I were the kind of friends that scheduled classes together intentionally and yet still saw each other out of class incessantly. We barged into each others’ homes without permission or even a mother’s stern look. We became natural elements in each others’ lives, like air, like earth. We knew each other too well, as deep friends should, and we trusted too well. I wanted to be a journalist then.

“Yeah, it has,” I replied, trailing, “it certainly has…” I was surprised by his declarative statements. I don’t run anymore, I thought. But how long had it been? I wondered. This irregular circumstance had turned a long held face of the past into an alarming image of abrupt recentness. There was a quiet panic inside me; a rioting in my stomach, yet my bones stood still. How long had it been? His car had been totaled; my girlfriend and I had broken up—both on the same night. I used to love her very much. My friend and I enrolled in different colleges and headed off in separate directions, keeping touch initially, but losing touch ultimately. I joined the cross country team in college, discovering my ability to run and my enjoyment of it. Racing was a big thing for me then. Somehow I’d forgotten that I never ran in high school. The last I had heard from him, he was a psychology major but was considering dropping out—I had no idea that he had gotten married. I ended up finishing school with a bachelor’s in business and advertising. I graduated and moved to a bigger city, basking in the perquisites of success, slowly developing pessimistic thought patterns. I gave up running after college.

Staring around and away from each other in uncomfortable wordlessness, we let the passing engines and the population replace our conversation. And we yearned so hard for silence.

Shrugging, he said, “Well, it was good seeing you, man. Are you in town for long?”

“Yeah,” I said. “I actually just moved back about a week ago.” I used to love this place.

“Well, then we’ll have to keep in touch,” he said. “You really used to be a runner, huh?” I assumed his question was rhetorical.

The tiny bell rang. “Jenny, babe, you’ll never believe who I just saw…!” I heard as the metal-framed door closed, dividing the air again: the outside air became the outside air and the inside air became the inside air. I continued running.

It occurred to me lying in bed that night that I knew what my epitaph should say, figuring that, by the time I died, it would be true.

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Truth_The Beauty of It [jessi]

Pilate is one of the most lamentable creatures in the New Testament. Harried and harassed on all sides by Caiaphas and the Jews, his wife, a rival politician and his own conscience, Pilate finds himself backed into a corner. And in the meantime he’s face to face with the Savior of the world. The bible makes it pretty clear that Pilate doesn’t want to kill Jesus, but what choice does he have? During their interview Jesus tells him “for this I came into the world: to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” I keep changing my mind about Pilate’s tone in his response. Is he really laughing when he says to Jesus, “What is truth?”

Pilate, a minor character in the drama of the Crucifixion, sneaks into the middle of his few lines a really profound question. Not that I’m setting Pilate up to be some sort of prophet—clearly, he was blind. Either blinded by God, or ignorant of his own accord, this guy’s verbal parlay with the The-Way-The-Truth-and-The-Life ends with a rhetorical “What is Truth?” It’s hard to say if anyone who had a hand in killing the Son of God is lucky, but I feel like certain other Biblical characters would not have gotten away with that. Job, for instance.

But letting Jesus go after the Jewish officials play their trump (“we have no king but Caesar”) would be political suicide, so even though he wants to free Jesus, he hands him over to be killed. I imagine he’s frustrated with everyone, and maybe even hates himself, for not having any clear answer; only the echoing question. He had no outside standard to which he could appeal—no rock jutting tall out of the tossing seas for him to cling to and say: “Aha! Here at last is TRUTH, and this one thing I know.” Pilate was missing that fixed point of reference—in his case, the answer to the question “which rope shall I hang myself with?”

That’s really what truth is (aside from the rope part, most of the time): that fixed point of reference, through which everything else makes sense. And be honest—who of us at one crisis or another hasn’t desperately wished for a little perspective on life? We need to look at things from outside our own shoes and see that very few of our mountains are anything quite like mountains, and the storms of emotion flooding our lives will dissipate soon enough if we can only ride it out a bit longer.

That element of truth, however, is really only attractive during those moments of crisis. Thomas Merton said in No Man Is an Island, “We are too much like Pilate. We are always asking “What is Truth?” and then crucifying the truth that stands before our eyes.” The problem arises when someone inevitably realizes that the “fixed point of reference”, in order to remain fixed, must be the same for everyone. The rock, seconds before, was a shelter and an anchor and other wonderful things we say we need in the middle of a storm. Now we curse it for its immovable ways. We stumble over it, push against it, and bleed out on it, and the very fact that it does not give way before us makes it hateful. Truth is unfeeling—cold and hard, plain and ugly, and any amount of adjectives you care to add.

And yet I think the sheer poetry of the immovable ought to count for something. I know I’ve used the rock metaphor a few too many times already, but I have a 10,000+ foot mountain in my backyard, and it follows me wherever I drive in two counties. There are plenty of other constants in the world. The stars have acted as compass points for sea farers and desert travelers alike. The words “everlasting to everlasting” give me shivers.

Some time ago I was talking on the phone with a very good friend who was dealing with some hard issues. I can’t remember now what it was, but I still remember her quiet voice on the phone asking, “Tell me something true.” She told me it’s a question she and her family ask each other when they need to be reminded of Jesus, “Especially when life sucks.”

She went on to say that since Jesus is Truth, every true answer will point her back to Christ, and “If Christ is interceding for me, then whatever happens I can trust is for my good and his glory. If my little Violet dies, or Joey leaves me then according to the Scriptures, I ought to be able to trust and still say “it is well with my soul,” knowing that whereas I would not pick those things for myself, Jesus has.”

So I’ve come to the conclusion that the wonder of truth, and consequently Jesus Christ is that quality of being so big and unchanging. And the wonder of something so big and so unchanging is that we can allow ourselves to be changed by it.

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