November 27, 2009

adventures in pen [jenna]

The flow of thought pauses, changes, skips back and forth between ideas, hesitant to settle on one for fear it will be anything less than the right one. The pen lifts, its scratching silent. The paper waits at ease.

The pen touches the paper again. Dim in the twilight, words take their place in rows across the page. Occasionally one bears a line drawn through it; occasionally a cluster of tiny words gathers outside of the main rows and marks its insertion with a small arrow.

The words may be secrets folded into the private sheets of a journal; they may form the short and jagged lines of a poem; they may carry the inventions of another world's history or commentary on the wiles and ways of our own. They may flow freely and naturally down the paper, as if it took no effort to place them; they may show the sharp strikes and dark substitutions of the violence wherewith they were extracted from the air.

Journal pages stay hidden, covers tightly closed and buried underneath the printed and bound words of others. The ideas reject revelation. A journal may prove treacherous, as it will open its secrets to any who take it up and read, but if carefully kept it may be a safe deposit for such things.

The lines and stanzas of poetry keep a rhythm of their own; long and short, long and short again. Perhaps those lines are marked over with tiny letters describing the melody and chords which give the cubing dimension to a song. A few words, lain across the top of the page, form the title. The paper holds its silence. The song always awaits a voice.

Invention of history may take the short form of only a few paragraphs or it may tell its tale through tens or hundreds or thousands of pages. It may take its writer in directions unintended or--more rarely--walk the path originally set before it; it may tell itself easily or its facts may have to be wrangled from the most awkward, difficult-to-reach corners of imagination. Its many words may provide understanding of those who have not walked the earth but could have, or they may go the way of Genesis and talk of worlds yet unknown to man--lands that foster impossible powers and sentient beings of strange, unusual description.

In the commentary upon this earth and its populace is often found the greatest weariness, the most haunting failures of transcendence. The pen may grow heavy, the pages burdensome, with the pressure of the words. A paragraph here, a sentence there, holds a thought twisted upwards, a sweet brief splendor of joy and hope.

Whatever else the words do, they search for magic--the magic to capture and transmit something more than mere fact. They search for the sense of melody, the atmosphere of the fairy world, though drawn in simple scrawls of black on white.

Again the pen lifts. The paper flips, and on its uneven and dented reverse, the pen touches again. Words take their place in rows across the page.

...continue reading...

"Ah, Holy Jesus," Rewritten as Emily Dickens [guest]

God's dear son – Jesus – have you so – offended -
As Man – so judgingly – hatefully pretended?
People: all mocking, People: rejecting, you: in great anguish.

Whence came this Anguish? And who was the Guilty?
I – treasonous Wretch – you are dying for Me.
Yes, it was I denied – crucified – you on Calvary, the shepherd.

From this good shepherd who for sheep was offered
the son who suffered for the slave who sinnéd
breathes all Forgiveness, Though I may not want and do reject this gift.

Your gift to Me was birth and sorrow and death:
Suffering, sorrowing, perishing – bearing - - -
- - - To save me - pouring out a off'ring of painful love and dying.

I: all undeserving, You: love unswerving
I can never pay You for your great suff'ring
I do – implore – You – now I pray to You – cast on me your pity


Andrew Smith is a home-schooled high school senior. He is fascinated by early medieval England, baseball history, the Spanish language, Baroque music, and backpacking in the mountains. Writing is an occasional outlet for thoughts.

...continue reading...

November 24, 2009

Control [tony]

Everyday we deal with decisions of right and wrong
Choice is the key
Do we actually choose to listen to what’s right?
Not even what's right, but what God thinks
Because he knows what is right
So what do we choose?
What we think is best?
Why not? After all, we are in control of our life, right?
Because if that’s true
We wouldn’t ever live in truth
So why would any one want to live a lie?
Because it's safe, and the same
People don’t like change
I know I don’t, do you?
You can choose to say one thing
And feel another
So when are we going to trust in him
And stop trying to be in control
So give yourself to him
We are not in control

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The Old Purple Couch [vanessa]

It's 5:36 AM. I am lying on an over-sized purple couch that has been faded by years of overnight guests, afternoon teas, hours of “four on a couch”, tear stained conversations, random parties, and countless Blockbuster nights. The city lights of an unfamiliar neighborhood stream in through the cracks in the mini blinds. I can already hear the tread of tires gripping the pavement. As my mind begins to wake up, I remember where I am. Yet, I want the familiarity that this purple couch has to offer, so I snuggle deeply under the covers and allow the cushions to engulf me in the memories of a not-so-distant past that has already begun to feel like a dream.

This purple couch was not always in this unfamiliar place. It once belonged to Leah, a dear friend and roommate. She acquired the couch as payment for a baby-sitting job. It traveled with her through at least two apartment moves and served as the inspiration for our small diving (dinner+living) room. As I lay here, I remember watching Leah sit on the couch eating a large chocolate cupcake with white icing from the Hershey bakery that I bought her for her birthday. Leah loves cupcakes.

After graduation, Leah moved to Germany. Maureen, my best friend and next roommate, decided to purchase the couch with me. Even now, there are few symbols that so clearly describe the nature of our friendship than this couch (which she still considers me half owner of). I was always the first one to wake up in the morning. While Maureen and Abby would slumber in the bedroom we shared, I looked forward to my morning ritual of coffee, reading and pondering.

As I pour the black nectar into a colorful mug, the aroma fills my nostrils, inviting me to begin my day. I can hear the clacking of the horse hooves on the street below pulling carriages to be ridden by urban sightseers. I look out our large picture window and once again ponder the paradox of my neighborhood. I look to the right and I see high-rise condos with rooftop pools and in-house gyms where the urban elite give a spare key to the dog walker who comes twice a day. A single young urban professional comes home from work carrying reusable Whole Foods bags to be greeted by a doorman whose entire existence is to keep unwanted guests out and push the elevator buttons.

As he rides the elevator up, he wonders if any of the residents of this building have first names. I look to the left and I see the high-rise housing projects that display more boards than window panes. There are dangling chains where swings used to exist on the graffiti covered playground that has become the headquarters for the neighborhood gang. As I watch a women carrying a baby, there is a two-year old walking next to her clinging to his coveted bag of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and a Coke from the corner store. I picture her walking up the eleven flights of stairs saturated with the smell of urine. The elevator is broken. There is no one wants to visit her and even if they do, who is left to keep out?
My thoughts are interrupted by the sound of a blaring alarm clock. Time to prepare for the day...

I reluctantly rise from the purple couch, carrying all of the memories of what once was and what is. I leave the purple couch to shower and prepare for the morning commute with Maureen. It always takes at least half an hour to get anywhere. We drive through the city streets and the closer we get to downtown, the more familiar everything feels. I get out of the car and enjoy a meandering walk to my favorite coffee shop. As I walk down the streets lined with towering buildings, hidden gardens, and the nations my mind is flooded with thoughts of how little things have changed. A Garmin store has been built next door to Nike Town.

I walk past a new cafe that looks like it's worth trying. Giordano's is still on the corner of Rush, a Starbucks is open on every block, a group of men living at the YMCA solicit me for some change, yellow cabs honk loudly at jay walkers. The people have different faces, but they are all part of the same system. Everyone has their place...defined by gait, dress, paper-lined coffee cups, chiseled biceps, designer laptop bags, and pedicured toes. It makes me wonder how much I've bought into this system. Isn't this the goal? I attempt to look into the eyes of the multitudes who I pass on the sidewalk, hoping to get a small glimpse into their souls. What aching and pain are covered by images of neat and tidy purchased perfection? If I invited one of these passers by to have an extra small non-fat decaf latte with a side of organic celery and brown rice crackers on the purple couch, what would their story reveal? Would they even accept the invitation? Perhaps it would inconveniently cut into their perfectly timed and organized schedule that keeps them safe...from life.

But, this isn't the only system that exists. I think back to the pavement jungle that the city builders have attempted to destroy, hide, and relocate. Though this system has a different face and a different set of rules, it's not so different at it's core. Once we live at an extreme, regardless of which end, we end up living very similar lives, even though we'd like to think they are light years apart. Instead of shopping sprees, drugs are substituted. Instead of therapists, gangs extend invitations. Instead of fathers absent due to work, fathers are simply absent. There is a silent resignation of hope present that communicates that this is it, that life will never be anything more than what it is right now. This live for the moment mentality kills dreams. But, why dream anyway...dreams are only painful fantasies. I know that if I invited the lonely women with the two kids to have take-out with me on the purple couch, she would come. I wonder if her life would reveal a story so dramatically different from my last guest? Probably not.

There is a deeply rooted poverty that cuts across all outward expressions – or lack thereof – of what has been defined by the systems we fall into. As I sit on the purple couch once again I realize that I am both of these people. I perpetuate both of these systems. Their lives are my life and in the end, we really aren't so different. All this I've only learned after getting up and leaving the purple couch and going to unfamiliar places that reveal tantamount measures of fear and insecurity. I often ache for what is comfortable and familiar, like the faithful purple couch. But...if I never leave the comfort of the purple couch, I will be left experience the poverty that grips my life and leads me to believe that the purple couch is the only one that exists and if I get up and leave it I will lose everything.

I'm beginning to think it's worth it...

...continue reading...

November 19, 2009

While Reading The Dark Knight of the Soul, by Gerard G. May, M.D. [guest]

“The soul lets go of everything, daughter, so that it may remain more completely in me. The soul itself no longer lives, but I.”

I stilled myself.

There I was.

Staggering. Exhausted. Sweating. Tense. Muscles aching. Barely alive.

I looked in my eyes. I looked at myself. I saw myself. Objectively. Sad. The bricks. So heavy. Cutting. Gouging my skin, blood gushing. Me – oblivious. Moving at a snail’s pace. Determined for some unknown, irrelevant destination.

Then I felt it.

HEAVY despair. Exhaust. Piling the bricks harder and harder on myself. Weight. Wanting to throw them off. Unable to do so. My back. Stuck. Panged.

And my own will. No No Press them harder. I can’t let go. This is how it has to be. Harder. Harder. More weight. I need it.

Why? Why??? I asked myself. But I really didn’t know. I couldn’t let go.

Then I begged Jesus – reason with her, I said about myself. There He was. I wanted to yank the bricks off. Straighten my back. I wanted to jerk my head up and look Him straight in the eye but I couldn’t. He held my hand. I held it close.

It’s a process.

He can’t just free me. I didn’t even want or know how to be free. He bent down mimicking my hunch back position. He looked in my eyes. He was next to me. He saw me. But I couldn’t see him. The exhaustion. The dizziness. The weight. blurred my eyes. I could only see…blur.

I didn’t need to see. Trying to only exhausted me more. Instead He just held my hand. Pulled it close. And walked with me at that snail’s pace to where ever it was that I was so determined to get to. And slowly, slowly as we walked together, I saw His hand. My face saw His face. My back began to straighten like His and the blocks fell from my back as a result of the slow but sure motion.

Soon I was upright like Him. Looking in His eyes. The more I looked at Him, the more the weights dropped to the ground. And there we stood. Perfect embrace. He held me close and cradled my head. Never so precious have I been coddled. Comforting and making whole. In Him I became whole.

He is everything.

When you feel the weight of the world. When you need it. You can’t even part with it. Don’t worry about looking. Just hold that hand. He will get you through.

“Whatever form it takes, the movement of the soul and God is always finding its way toward freedom.”

“Regardless of when and how it happens, the dark night of the soul is the transition from bondage to freedom in prayer and in every other aspect of life.”

“In the liberation of the night, we are freed from having to figure things out, and we find delight in knowing what we do not know.”


Steffeny Steiner was born in Hollywood, CA. She is a lover of adventures and enjoys documenting her travels--whether to the grocery store, another country, or inside her own heart. Steffeny also has love for coffee, community, and Africa. She loves to hear people’s stories because they excite, heal, and inspire. In Stef’s opinion, this is what life is about. She’ll be sharing some of her stories as a guest contributor and is pretty stoked to hear from you as well.

...continue reading...

Nostalgia [teddi]

I drove to that same building on a brisk fall evening. The mountains were glorious, standing high and proud against a sun-set sky. Oranges and reds decorated the grounds and underneath my feet were the crunching sounds of weak leaves. The air was clean and it was so quiet you could hear that strange sound that is really no sound at all; the ringing of silence. Every now and then, you could hear the call of geese. They sounded almost desperate, screeching and gasping. I swear, it's the saddest sound in the world.

Staring at that building I felt as Wordsworth must have when he wrote Tintern Abbey. It had been a “long and painful absence.” Yet I returned. I stood there, staring, with my hands in my jacket. A chill came over me as I remembered everything. Every moment of pleasure and sorrow. Every moment of feast and famine. The images were clear and vivid in my head; the feelings strong and rich in my heart. Loss would so easily wish for me to forget yet I couldn't. It was all very real.

When we sat on mexican blankets on the concrete, staring up at the stars. When we smoked cigars out the car window, driving down country roads with the windows down. When we took walks through the woods and shrieked at every mysterious sound. When we sat in summer grass and prayed for hurting friends. When we made a campfire and watched the flames dance as we warmed our feet and hands. When we sat on sanctuary floors with a sense of both reverence and terror. When we were simply together. Before that, before this, before life’s turbulent changing tides.

I hold those times close to me now. They are both my chapped soul and also the only balm that can soothe it. I remember always, I remember all; not because it was perfect, but simply because it was.

It was what it was.

It just was.

It was meaningful. It was worthwhile. It was familiar. It was habitual yet it became more. It became a family. A sense of belonging.

I entertain these thoughts but for a few minutes before I am filled with a strange mixture of bitterness and thankfulness. I walk back to my car and the chill bites my hands. I hear the geese once again, their call breaking the silence of the country. I watch them wander through the grasses, stare at me for but a moment and then take flight. It is time for them to depart. They are heading southward. They are off to find their new home.

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November 17, 2009

Part III: Prophecy and Infantry [barry]

"Is it true that I have seen all these things? That they are real incidents in my life's history? Did I see those brave and noble countrymen of mine laid low in death and weltering in their blood? Did I see our country laid waste and in ruins? Did I see soldiers marching, the earth trembling and jarring beneath their measured tread? Did I see the ruins of smouldering cities and deserted homes? Did I see my comrades buried and see the violet and wild flowers bloom over their graves? Did I see the flag of my country, that I had followed so long, furled to be no more unfurled forever? Surely they are but the vagaries of mine own imagination. Surely my fancies are running wild tonight.

"But, hush! I now hear the approach of battle. That low, rumbling sound in the west is the roar of cannon in the distance. That rushing sound is the tread of soldiers. That quick, lurid glare is the flash that precedes the cannon's roar. And listen! That loud report that makes the earth tremble and jar and sway, is but the bursting of a shell, as it screams through the dark, tempestuous night. That black, ebon cloud, where the lurid lightning flickers and flares, that is rolling through the heavens, is the smoke of battle . . . Listen! The soldiers are charging now."

- Private Sam Watkins, 1st Tennessee Infantry Regiment

The paperwork has been submitted. The suicidal freefall has concluded. The death has occurred. The discharge has been remitted; the epitaph delivered ("Honorable," it reads). I do not have much to say, for the dead do not speak eloquently.

Fortunately, my Father always does.

"You know you are still a soldier, right?" he inquired (more so exhorted), with these simple words of prophecy presaging a life that lies ahead – not unlike those simple words of prophecy that previously portended the death that just occurred.

Because the words have been spoken (and I know that this is how my Father creates), I know that this process of life after death has already begun. Indeed, even in those previous words of death, my Father began this course of new life. So it seems that perhaps this death was not really death at all; however, I am too new to have comprehension.

Like a cognitive infant, I am able to perceive and evaluate the world and experiences around me, but wholly incapable of fully understanding or adequately communicating what is being felt.

Like the dry remains of Ezekiel's Army – those nameless, desiccated soldiers – I am simply waiting for my Father's words to permeate my bones and bring me back to life.

I will miss the grip of a rifle, the heat and weight of body armor, the pungent fumes of tank exhaust and cordite, and the adrenaline and sweat that gives it all a unique and precious aroma. I will miss the respect of professional leaders, the esteem of my countrymen, and the love that I cannot help but feel for my soldiers who looked to me for leadership and answers and action. I will miss the feel of the uniform, the way those fabrics magically improve posture and increase height, and the knowledge of every step and every action that led to the vibrant, clashing colors and gleaming shine of ornaments on my chest. I will miss the comfortable jargon, the unfettered but absolutely pure complaining of the grunts and pogues, and the only brotherhood to which I have ever belonged. I will miss free airline baggage service, retail discounts, and not having to ever show my driver's license because I have a better form of identification. My life will be nothing like it was, and I will dearly mourn it. Indeed, I already profoundly miss these things. I already mourn.

But life has been spoken, and life awaits. I will dwell on this death, but only to proclaim that it is gain; that the abundance of what waits for me as a soldier in my Father's army will far surpass these vagaries of mine own imagination.

But, hush! I now hear the approach of battle. Listen! I hear the voice of my Father. The muscles and sinews are reforming on my bones. I am still a soldier, and I trust that when the time comes, my hands will remember what it means to grip a weapon and my feet will recall how to be steady in the battle. I cannot wait for that time, but I have no idea what that fight will look like. I must now be an infant and once again receive life and health and training from my Father, the King of Battle. That is, after all, what it means to be in the infantry.

...continue reading...

Your Heart Is a Midden [joshua]

Pace around the field
Waist to waist in silence
Watch the storm black the sky

You've razed the harbor
Of pretense from my breast
You're no mystery to me now

Run - your soul crushed callous
The wounds you don't nurse
I leave my flowers funeral haze
And put my hope in the earth

Turn my head away
The screen oh father
There's nothing to say
Why drink it any further
Years of empty promise
To the children it can't ignore


I see you jet away again
Another lost chance to wave
The heart is a midden
I see you jet away again
Let me see you jet away again

Capture all the markers
From all the graveyard stops
The trespasses of a life gone by
Hitchhiked on feelings, pictures

You love the politics of preservation
Save the landfill you say
Your heart is a midden

I see you jet away again
I see you stoop to kiss her
I see you jet away again
Your heart is a midden

...continue reading...

November 12, 2009

Standing in the Delta [nean]

What God has joined
in Her infinite wisdom
of the who and the what
we all need

Let no man think
he's smart enough
or arrogant enough
or capable enough
to try to pull apart.

As the drops of east
dilute with west
two rivers truly are one

As one body is made
of thousands of parts
this river is filled from streams.

Where this water joins
to become part of the whole
and flows to fill that which was
it becomes one with all
that have flowed here before
keeping some of what
others have lost

And here we will fail
if we try to remove it

For good or bad~
polluted or not~
this stream is now part
of our river

And all little streams
moving off on their own
become tributaries of that which was

For these new streams we've made
are nothing like the old ~
forever changed
into something new

They can never be
anything less
than the sum of it's parts
taking pieces of me
leaving pieces of you
to forever be drowned
in this place where we've joined

...continue reading...

November 10, 2009

Sally O'Reilly [amanda]

University Christian Living Covenant Contract Broken Friday, August 28, 10 p.m.

Sally O’Reilly rooms with her best friend. They eat five meals together a week, take one class together on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Sally’s best-friend-roommate has a boyfriend. Sally does not. On Friday nights, Sally, her best-friend-roommate and her boyfriend go to a house on Little Cricket Drive for a party. Always the same house: Faded red vinyl along the outside, a cracked cement porch, a single potted plant sitting in pale, crumbly dirt. Twenty or thirty people come to the house. They meander and laugh through the cramped living room, the steep, narrow staircase, the linoleum kitchen. Sally always sits on the rickety front porch swing with David. This is David’s house. Together, Sally and David smoke a pack of Swisher Sweets, and watch the pearl gray plumes of smoke rise in the night air, disappearing somewhere beneath the purple-ish clouds overhead.

“Can you blow smoke rings?” Sally asks David.

He glances at her, and then at the cigar between his fingers. David fits the cigar between his lips, drags, and throws his head back, cheeks like cherubim, rounded, with smoke. He constricts his lips tightly, into an O, and puffs out carefully, contracting his lips like a goldfish. Sally sees a hazy circle ascend above him, a halo, and it disappears before David has a chance to see it. Sally drags on her cigarillo and exhales through her nostrils.

“You did it,” she says.

The swing sways slightly, far past curfew.

Living in the Girl Dorm

Sally O’Reilly lives in a girl dorm. Many girls live in the girl dorm along with Sally and her roommate. Tall girls and short girls, fat girls and skinny girls, girls in between. Sally knows all different kinds of girls in the girl dorm. When Sally wakes up in the morning, she rolls out of bed, grabs a towel and toiletry caddy, and goes to the bathroom. There are girls brushing their teeth above the sinks. They smile at Sally, the white foam bubbling around their lips and teeth like a pack of rabid coons, their eyes screwing up into crescents. Sally smiles faintly back.

“This,” she thinks, “is very odd…”

She sees the coagulated stripes on Mary Johnson’s wrists. But it was Mary Johnson who smiled the broadest at Sally O’Reilly this morning. It is Mary Johnson who makes ham and cheese sandwiches every Monday, Wednesday, Friday at lunch, who wears long sleeves in early September, who sits in her closet and cries in the afternoons when her classes are over. It is Mary Johnson whom all the guys ask out. Sally O’Reilly knows this because she can hear Mary Johnson crying through the plaster walls, those thin, choked sobs that come to a shuddering stop when the phone rings. Mary Johnson gulps in air for a few seconds. Then Sally O’Reilly hears her answer the phone in a voice that sounds something like excitement, like joy.

“Friday night sounds good,” Mary Johnson says.

It is all very odd.

Sending Mixed Signals

Sally’s friend, David, sends her a wild flower through the school mail. Sally knows that David likes her, because he buys them Swisher Sweets every Friday night. But Sally doesn’t think she likes David. He smokes Swisher Sweets, and Sally doesn’t want to date a guy who smokes, or who drinks Captain Morgan’s. She likes the idea of dating a youth ministry major, or a chaplain. But she likes to smoke. This Friday night, Sally will go to David’s house, and she will not say anything about the flower. She will sit on the front porch swing, and dream of a guy who asks her to pray with him, who writes theology articles for the school newspaper, who talks with Bible professors about God. Sally will think about this for a long time, and she will smoke five of David’s Swisher Sweets. One after another, until she can’t hold the tobacco stump between her fingers without getting burned. David will ask her, “What are you thinking about, Sally?” And Sally O’Reilly will look into the sky, eyebrows pressed together and reply, “…About why pears taste grainy.” David will smile, laugh, and ask her what she means. Sally O’Reilly will smile, and laugh, and tell him something off the top of her head. And David will think she is very charming.

Koine Greek

It is very quiet in the classroom. And the professor, Professor Jarrad, has not arrived yet. Sally O’Reilly is afraid. She is the only girl, sitting in a classroom with twenty-two guys, and she is afraid that they will think that she is a Pastoral Ministry major, too. That she is a revolutionary. A woman who will graduate and move to some distant state to pastor a small church. She will cut her long, blonde hair short and let the highlights grow out several inches, parted down the middle, to exemplify the virtues of a celibate monkish hermitage for the congregation. Sally O’Reilly will stand up at the pulpit wearing thick glasses without prescription lenses, throw her arms to either side, and exclaim, “Beauty is fleeting, ladies, might as well beat ‘em to the punch!” The congregation will cheer. A white- steepled congregation of high school and college girls. They will love Sally O’Reilly’s example and will go to distant universities and never marry, and the population of the neighborhoods around Sally O’Reilly’s church will plummet into a dusty, tumbleweed ghost town. She will spend her Saturday nights pondering the dates she never went on in college. She will ponder this, and she will not revise Sunday’s sermon. She will forget how to wear makeup. She will go to the Jubilee Supermarket, whore-red lipstick caked across her lips, and try to flirt with a cashier named Harold. He will be fourteen years older than her.

This idea raises goosebumps on Sally O’Reilly’s arms. She wants to throw her chair back and yell, “I believe in mutual submission of the spouses!” But she does not do this. Professor Jarrad walks in and thumps his Greek Grammar text onto the lecture stand. The room quiets immediately. And while he passes out syllabi, row by row, Sally’s palms sweat and she peers down at her left ring finger – a little column of flesh and bone and nerves, naked.

Best Friend Number Two

Sally O’Reilly’s best friend that she made at orientation is Martina Hesbitt. Martina Hesbitt fell in love with Steve McQueen at age nine; she owns each of his movies and a glossy, signed photograph that she framed and nailed into her dorm room wall, though she knows she will be fined for the damages at the end of the semester. Martina Hesbitt lives in Sally’s hall.

She eats black olives out of the jar with a plastic fork while exegeting 1 John for Hermeneutics class. Sally O’Reilly comes into her room while she is eating black olives. Martina Hesbitt happily slams her textbook shut and turns in her chair to talk with Sally O’Reilly. She has something to tell her.

Martina Hesbitt has a crush on Nick Clairy.

“I think we’d be real good together,” she says, her teeth scrape the fork leaving her mouth, jaw crushing a black olive into mush.

Sally O’Reilly does not have a boyfriend. She listens to the sound of Martina’s voice and wonders if it is prettier than hers. It is. Sally looks at Martina’s complexion. It is very clear. Sally looks at Martina’s mascara-ed eyelashes, the way they clump together, and she feels much better.

Facebook Status

Sally Michelle O’Reilly: is going to wear heels, dang it.


Sally O’Reilly plans to paint her toenails. Either flamingo pink or cobalt blue. Sally is worried, however, that she will get nail polish on her jeans, so she changes into a pair of white cotton shorts. But, when Sally O’Reilly looks into the mirror she says, “Mother of pearl!” and for the next five minutes, she presses the flesh on her thighs together in her hands, watching the smooth flesh dimple. Sally O’Reilly looks in the mirror and recites every synonym for fat that she can think of: blubber, cellulite, lard, flab, lipid, adipose tissue. But, then, Sally O’Reilly remembers what her mother told her. Her mother, who gave birth to five children. “The last one just kinda slipped out,” her mother had said. So Sally grins at her thighs in the mirror, and exclaims, “These are child-bearing hips!” and she punches the air with her fist. “Let’s show those free weight boys what a real woman looks like!” And so Sally O’Reilly throws open her sock drawer and snaps a pair of white ankle socks on over her unpainted toenails, laces up her sneakers, and goes to the gym, head held high, a smirk on her face.

Sally O’Reilly Injures Herself at the Gym

Sally walks into the free weights room. Seventeen, bulging-armed, sweat-glistening guys stand or sit inside, huffing as they strain large black barbells up and down. Sally picks up two 10 lb. dumbbells, and does eight reps. Then another. Her heart is pounding. Then, she hoists the weights above her head, and her right shoulder comes out of its socket. The humerus separates from the scapula at the glenohumeral joint. The pain feels like her arm came off: There is no right arm anymore: You will have to make do, Sally O’Reilly. She falls to her knees, mouth gaping, breath caught in her throat. The eyes of the guys around her widen, barbells clang onto stands. Sally wrenches her arm upwards, instinctively, and hears the muffled sound of a snap – feels her throbbing limb maneuver into its socket. The humerus joins with the scapula at the glenohumeral joint. You have an arm, Sally O’Reilly. She sits on the ground, a crowd of guys around her. Sally bites her lip so that she will not cry.

After a Phone Call, Sally O’Reilly Drove Six Hours Home on Thursday, October 29
Sally O’Reilly is walking down the sanctuary’s center aisle at her grandmother’s funeral dressed in a coffee-black pencil skirt, shirt, pumps, black slip underneath her pencil skirt. The slip rides up Sally’s thighs as she walks next to her mother. It rides up as she sits down. A long inverted crater across her thighs. Sally squirms and shifts in her chair to coax the black slip down, but she can’t.

The doors at the back of the sanctuary open. Sally knows her grandmother is in that ash-wood casket coming down the aisle. It looks like a fat bar of toffee, and the six straight-lipped pallbearers like ice cream popsicles with chocolate shells, cracked down the middle, vanilla ice cream dripping on their chests.

Sally wants to reach up her skirt and yank her slip down. She wonders if anyone will notice. She peers around the audience, her hand, poised, on the edge of her skirt. Sally sees Aunt Christine across the aisle, her hair tied up on top of her head in a loose bun, the swirls of brown hair like chocolate frosting. She holds a tissue against her face to catch the drops of Sprite soda leaking from her eyes.

“Poor Aunt Christine,” Sally O’Reilly whispers.

The pallbearers lay grandma’s casket on the stage, and solemnly edge away.

A Streetcar Named Desire

Sally walks into the lounge where Martina Hesbitt lies on the couch, her ankles entwined, left arm lying over her stomach, in her long-sleeved pajamas. The ghostly light of the television reflects on her face. Her eyes are glassy, glinting rectangles of bright, gray light. She does not notice Sally walk in until Sally asks, “What’re you watching?”

Martina Hesbitt looks up at her and shouts, “I am NOT a Pollock!”

Sally O’Reilly Text Messages Her Cousin, Elisha

Message Sent:
wearing jeans u bought me 4 my brthdy

Message Reply:
then prpare 2 get hit on

Sally O’Reilly Cannot Write a Poem

Sally crouches down on the balls of her feet, her shoulders leaning back against the brick building – the back wall of her dorm. It is eleven minutes before curfew. Sally clamps the leafy end of a cigarillo between her lips. The flame in her dollar-store lighter flickers in the slight breeze. The tobacco tip alights, and Sally slips the lighter into her jacket pocket calmly, relieved. She drags, savors the slight Irish Crème flavor in the hollow of her mouth and nasal cavities before sighing the gray fumes into the late night air. Sally recites The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. “And looked down one as far as I could, to where it bent in the undergrowth,” she murmurs, watching the smoke tumble out of her mouth with every syllable. Sally tips her head up, and exhales. The thick stream jettisons into the air like a steam engine on the Thames, like the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Sally tips her head against the brick, and recites, “And both that morning equally lay, in leaves no step had trodden black…” The end. Sally O’Reilly flicks the tobacco stump into the bushes. She has forgotten the rest.

About a Prof

Sally does not turn the music up. Her fingers draw back from the keyboard and she tilts her head towards the thin plaster wall.

“Isn’t it weird?” asks a girl in a low voice.

“Are you sure he really meant it?” asks Martina Hesbitt.

“Read it again,” she says.

Sally O’Reilly hears papers shuffling. They must be sitting on Martina Hesbitt’s sofa because it is pushed up against the wall. A few moments pass. Sally’s conscience says she should keep typing her paper for English Comp, but she does not because Martina starts talking again.

“What a douche!” she exclaims. “What a creeper-douche!”

Sally knows that Martina is combing her fingers through her hair because they are best friends, and because Martina combs her hair with her fingers when she is upset.

“Show it to Student Services,” Martina says, “then he’ll get axed, the horny goat.”

Sally hears a metal spring creak in the sofa. She places her hands on the keyboard and looks at an unfinished sentence, the cursor blinking impatiently.


Sally O’Reilly watches Martina Hesbitt through the kitchen window on the second floor of their hall. Martina walks outside to her ’89 Buick and unlocks the trunk. The horizontal door pops open and she looks either way over her shoulder at the maple trees and the few cars sitting in the parking lot. She rummages through vinyl bags and cardboard boxes until she finds the hunting knife her father gave her and stuffs it, handle up, into her jean’s pocket. Martina Hesbitt walks to the professor’s parking lot. She finds his car, a 2005 black Hyundai Tiburon. She knows that this is his car because of the license plate: MarcM(space)5. She looks over her shoulder, to the right and to the left, again. Then Martina Hesbitt pulls the knife out of her pocket and clips off the scabbard. She starts with the front left tire. She inhales, exhales, quickly and robustly, and swings her arm at the tire, feels the knife meet rubber, hears the sharp pop, and watches the tire sag to the ground as she drags out her knife. She does the same to the front right tire, and then the back two.

She stands back, chest heaving, perspiration glistening on her upper lip, and looks at the car. Tires lay like melted licorice around the chrome hub caps. She pulls her eyebrows together. Something is missing. Martina fits the blade of the knife in her hand, sharp edge away from her palm, and approaches the car. She scrawls the letters B-I-T-C-H onto the driver-side door. She looks at the car again. Martina Hesbitt grins, shrugs, and walks away.

Salad Bar

Sally O’Reilly stands in one of the lines at the salad bar. She is waiting for the shredded carrots. The shredded carrots will be here in a little while. Sally draws a sigh and looks up from the empty bowl. The guy standing across the salad bar from her is spooning cherry tomatoes onto a bed of lettuce, raisins, and banana bell peppers. Sally sees a girl stand in behind him, where he cannot see her. This girl is standing very close to the guy ahead of her. This girl’s eyes shutter close. She leans in to just above his shoulder, and sniffs. Her mouth perks with the shadow of a smile, and so does Sally O’Reilly’s.

Facebook Status

Sally Michelle O’Reilly: wants to know why whenever guys look in her direction they say, ‘Gimme dat’.

Ovarian Cyst Ruptures at 8:21 a.m., Tuesday, December 1

Sally O’Reilly lurches in bed because of a sharp pain in her lower back. One stab. Sally waits a moment, and the pain is already gone. So Sally sits up, scratches her head, and walks to the bathroom for a shower. Two minutes pass. Now Sally O’Reilly is lying on the blue bathroom tiles. Her stomach balloons to twice its size. Single teardrops fall from her unblinking brown eyes. She is sweating through her cotton pajama shirt. Sally’s lips draw back and forth across the linty carpet mat, “Oh, God,” she whispers. Sally wonders if a Mafia had been hiding in the shower stall, and has shot her in the stomach five times. Or if a lumberjack sprang out of the cabinet behind her and impaled her abdomen with an ax. Or possibly both.

Sally feels a gnawing sensation clench in her chest. She is going to throw up.

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Where Did My Confidence Go? [liz]

I like the freedom of a blue sky
And the cozy feel of a cloudy one
I want to sit by a fire
But hate it when my legs are cold
I want to be with you forever
But don't trust you like my friends
Any reasonable request is a Yes
And at times the unreasonable too
Where did my confidence go?

I don't want to make you sad
Living across the Western line
I did not throw out my heritage
You taught me to open my arms
So I did, while walking

I like the intimacy of the bar stool
As I swivel toward you
I like how you greet me
Can I ask you to stay with me
And not into the barley
Come, greet me again

I like to look nice and dress well
Then envy those wearing sweatshirts
I'm proud of my thrifty bicycle
Raise my nose to the villager powered by electricity
Then remember it was my choice

I liked how you knew me
Without having seen me in so long
I liked how you cared about my soul
And how you sent me flowers
I liked listening to you speak to me
And loved what could have been

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November 5, 2009

Stone Is Not Dead [judd]

Stone is not dead

Marble comes to life in human hands
He called it carne, meat to carve
God-fired-up with chisel and hammer
Forged and pounded, forged and pounded
To strike and chip, to file and etch

Stone is not dead

Stone lives in his hands
Stone breathes in his loving care
Stone exalts in his ministry
He sculpted stone into life

Stone is not dead

David was a damaged slab
Until a flat-nosed Florentine
Anointed it with metal

Stone is not dead

David’s pupils are hearts
Age 500, still emitting energy

Stone lives

In our hands

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November 3, 2009

Suspended in a State of Waiting [jessi]

We are all suspended in a state of waiting, and it’s hard not to notice the people around me:

Two teenagers on their way to a rodeo. I had no idea you could buy a cowboy-hat shaped box for your cowboy hats. An elderly couple sits closest to the gate. He blows his nose and clears his throat intermittently—his wife ignores him, focusing her attentions on her Sudoku book. A group of men and women are on their way to an orthodontists’ convention. They call out to each other as they board separately, “don’t forget to floss!” and “you wear your retainer, now.”

It’s funny what a common destination will do to bring people together, and that’s one of the things I love about traveling. I’m not very chatty on a cross country flight (mostly because the monotonous hum of the jet engine quickly puts me to sleep), but even so, I am fascinated by the people I meet that are so outside of my normal sphere. It’s enchanting and addicting.

On a Philadelphia to Seattle flight two years ago, a friend and I spent the whole five-and-a-half hours passing notes back and forth about the man in front of us. He was a Bulgarian national dressed in leather, with a futuristic looking wristwatch that clearly had room for either a cyanide pill or a computer chip containing top-secret information (but not both). He waggled his eyebrows menacingly at the flight attendants, and growled when they did not bring his food quickly enough. We had just drawn the conclusion that he was a Jason Bourne-style villain (most likely an International hit man), when the in-flight movie began. It turns out International hit men are surprisingly fond of cartoon squirrels and Amy Adams. I’ve sat through Enchanted while on a plane a grand total of four times, and I’ve never experienced a fellow passenger laughing as heartily (albeit gruffly, and with growly overtones) as my Bulgarian hit man

A few weeks ago I was killing time in the Anacortes ferry terminal, waiting to walk on to the 12:30 ferry to Orcas Island, and I struck up conversation with a furniture builder who began by telling me that he took a weekend trip and ended up staying away for two months. When someone dangles a conversational tidbit like that, you end up following it, and sometimes you cover every subject from teenage daughters, broken dreams and questioning your faith, but later you can’t recall the original answer to the original question.

Sometimes it isn’t a shared conversation. Sometimes it’s standing back and catching someone’s eye and knowing you’re both thinking the same thing.

I sat in front of a college student once who spent the whole flight earnestly trying to impress the attractive German girl sharing his row. His opening line was, “I have a man-crush on Socrates.” I thought this was kind of a cute way to begin, but three hours he was going full tilt with his philosophy of man, and the ultimate religion he was very close to cobbling together that would answer all of life’s questions (since, he confidently shared, no single religion in existence had the ability to do so). His distracted and entirely self involved discourse continued unabated for the rest of the flight, and even after we had disembarked and were walking en masse toward Baggage Claim. My sister shushed me, but two other people smirked when I stage-whispered, “Five hours! He’s been talking for five hours!”

When I used to visit my sister in San Francisco, one of our favorite things was to find The Bushman and watch him scare the living daylights out of people. Once we stood middle of a crowd of people for about 20 minutes, many with their video cameras rolling, watching this guy. People who normally wouldn’t look each other in the eye while walking down the street completely let down their guard. Laughing, nodding to each other, and finding commonality at the expense of the overweight tattooed dude who screams like a little girl.

I don’t want to make these experiences out to be more than they are. I know that to suggest such a tiny connection equals actual community is silly. But I know that sometimes these connections open my eyes to people and things around me. They soften me and bring me outside my shell.

Anyone else have these kinds of moments?

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