June 25, 2010

Chocolate and Limes [jana]

You name me. Chocolate and limes, bitter
and bitter, two kinds and two rhymes.

I need to know: how is the bitter made sweet?
Is it dancing along a Venetian street?
Floating on cushions just at water level?
Roses and oceans of wine and unwind a little?
Barren as desert compared to these hills
Childless and broken,
nameless and homeless,
void and waiting on crucible change.

chocolate and limes
and me...a poisoned well?

Only true when I fail to remember,
Remember barren is also to be free to love, challenging
the bitter in me to transform, turning sweet; ice to water.
I find my children in faces around me.
Rock in river, step for tentative foot,
Brief hold, refuge for the half-drowned.
Each contact strengthens me, too
Remember, remember, to be an island is not the same
as to be a desert.
O my soul,
An island, not always a desert.


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My Husband Says Now I Know How Brett Favre Feels [olivia]

You had to wear black, didn’t you?

With your soft, high palettes
With your white hot pitch
With your buttery dissonance
With your bright eyes and smooth skin
With your hammock of sound strung so tight that your notes
bounced
off
and
hit
the
beams
and
broke my heart

You sang at my funeral
You sang at your funeral
You had to wear black


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June 22, 2010

Considering the Lilies [vanessa]

I am so weary
Of this game of hide and seek.
I can't find You here.

My daughter, consider the lilies.

Can You see me here?
Can You hear my anxious pleas?
Are You listening?

My daughter, consider the lilies.

That's it, I'm finished
I'm tired and I'm done with this
Game You are playing.

My daughter, consider the lilies.

I wish that You would
Give up on me in the ways
I give up on You.

My daughter, consider the lilies.

You don't, You can't and
You won't. Why do you love me?
I don't understand.

My daughter, consider the lilies.

Are You speaking now?
I hear something, but I can't
make out all the words.

My daughter, consider the lilies.

You are telling me
To look out of the window?
All I see are birds.

My daughter, consider the lilies.

Wait, I see something...
The birds are plucking out worms
From the warm, moist soil.

My daughter, consider the lilies.

They look so peaceful.
I can hear them singing now -
Such beautiful songs.

My daughter, consider the lilies.

Have You told them where
Your secret hiding place is?
Will you tell me, too?

My daughter, consider the lilies.

Let me make sure I
Am hearing You correctly -
You were always here?

My daughter, consider the lilies...


...continue reading...

Winter Wonder(land) [annie o]

The following are excerpts from a larger piece on my relationship with winter.

Early 1990s

I sit straddling a giant snow ball, which has obliged my imagination and is now actually a giant caterpillar, upon whose back I ride through the air in a never ending story of my own.

Since it is dark out I think it is very late. I think it might be nine o'clock.


November 19, 1996

We are lining up for hot lunch and the power goes out. Everyone talks about it, but no one changes their plans because the power will come back on soon. It always does.

After lunch I go to Challenge group in a room with a skylight. Out of habit, my math teacher puts a slide on the overhead projector and flips the switch. We are confused for a moment when it does not turn on.

After school Christine tells me she got to come home early; there were not enough windows at the high school so they had to send everyone home.

We want to watch the news to see what is wrong, but the TV won't turn on.

My father, coming home from work, knows it is an ice storm and everyone is out of power. We will be out of power for a long time, so he has bought logs at the grocery store and we use our fire place for the first time. We huddle in the living room around a battery powered radio near the fire.

It is dark and cold outside. It is dark and cold inside, too. The house, yard, world has been encased in ice and everything, everyone is freezing. The world outside is a giant, interactive Ansel Adams photograph. Delicate crystals of ice cover every surface like lace: the trees are dressed up for a wedding or a first communion. A few trees cannot bear the weight of ice and snow and fall aimlessly on power lines and homes.

We play board games at the neighbor’s house to occupy our long dark hours. Playing Life, someone lands on a square I have never noticed before: Tree falls on house, Pay $15,000 if not insured. We laugh darkly, remembering the white evergreens in our own yards.

That night we sleep in REI sleeping bags inside our house. We shiver through the night. The next night we contemplate sleeping at my Dad's office, where the power has already been restored and there is heat. Once we begin to pack our sleeping bags, the lights come on.

Everyone is excited, but I am secretly disappointed that the adventure is over already.

My siblings tell of their friends who live farther out in the country, whose power is still out even until Thanksgiving. My siblings are glad to eat a hot turkey when the day comes. In my mind the power is still out and I must learn slowly to live by candlelight and batteries. But when we sit down for dinner I am glad for turkey as well.


December 19, 1998

The thermometer outside reads six degrees Fahrenheit. Instead of canceling our plans, my family and I pull on long underwear, wool socks, extra shirts, thick ski coats and small black gloves so we can walk our skis and ski boots to the car. We bring an extra layer of gloves, hats, fleece neck- and ear-warmers, and ski goggles.

We drive north. We drive up a mountain. We listen to the radio broadcasting the House of Representatives, who have just voted to impeach President Clinton. I am shivering in the back seat.

The mountain is empty except for ski lift operators. It is colder than it was back home. We buy lift tickets and are first and last in line to get on. I pull my goggles over my eyes and my neck-warmer over my nose. At the top of the lift, my family gathers looking down the hill.

We are too cold to notice that from the top of the mountain, on a perfectly crisp clear day that is too cold for snow, all the mountains surrounding us are glistening in the sun, shining pristine white, black-green pines showing their year round color for miles. We don't notice that the world is upside down, and we are among the clouds over the bright blue ocean of sky above. Instead we feel each breath sharply stinging our throats, so we point our skis down the hill and race back to the lodge. We sit in the lodge for an hour, where we thaw and discuss whether or not to go home.

We get on the chair lift again and ride through painful slices of cold air. At the top, my parents urge us not to wait for them: Go to the lodge. We are huddled over and speaking into fleece, struggling to understand that my father's glasses fogged up under his goggles, and the fog has frozen over. He bravely bares his face to the weather; my mother bares her hand with fingernails to scrape the ice. And the way the wind beats them, and they huddle and hide, we might be on Everest.

My siblings and I slice through snow toward the lodge. I keep my skis parallel the whole run: I don't slalom, I don't snow plow, I don't slow down for anything. I artfully dodge trees and sisters and moguls and powder, and with Olympian speed and grace find myself nearing the lodge. I have never skied like this before. I will never ski like this again.

We spend another hour in the lodge thawing. I mention that I'm hungry and my mother reminds me of the granola bar she gave me to put in my pocket. I pull it out and remove it from its silver wrapper that claims it is a chewy granola bar. It is too hard to bite. Frozen like me.

Perhaps the air is too thin to think clearly, or the coldness has slowed our synapses, but we make one more run today. One more gloriously cold, skis-straight-down-the-mountain, faster than fast run. It is the last run of the day, but we must thaw in the lodge again before traipsing all the way to the car.


December 25, Early 2000s

We sit around the tree opening presents. Outside the grass is green, but I am still dreaming of a white Christmas.

We sit among crumpled wrapping paper, ribbons, and boxes, and eat cinnamon rolls for lunch in our pajamas when the snowflakes begin to fall.


December 2004

It is my first finals week in college. It is midnight and I have a test at 8 am tomorrow, for which I am almost ready.

Someone walking by my dorm room declares that the northern lights are outside; a rarity this far south. I drop my books and notes and grab my ski coat. I venture outside into a clearing in the woods behind my dorm. What little snow there was has melted, except where it was scraped into piles along the parking lots and roads. I lay on a friend's blanket she has laid out on a muddy patch, watching the white lights flickering and dancing like fire across the black sky.

After an hour everyone else has gone inside, complaining of the cold. I am under the spell--Abracadabra, Aurora Borealis--and I stay.


...continue reading...

June 18, 2010

The Battle Inside [liz]

The Battle Inside

The battle is certain
In every decision, reaction
I fight inside and out

There are those who want to mare and hurt
They want their way, and want me out
They spit their venom and watch it work
It is my strength, it is my weakness--
I am not immune to aggression

My opinion is one
A friend claims another
Yet together we fight, and still we fight each other
Opposing positions, practices, and power
I saw the fire, burned inside
And felt the beast within

Is it enough to not lose my cool?
Is it enough to just stand my ground?
Or is it all made loss if love does not abound?

I am in a battle
I will falter, but will not stop
To love my enemy, friend, and Maker

He first loved all.


...continue reading...

Blood and Bread [justin]

“It’s sacrilegious, I tell you, feeding the precious flesh of Christ to ducks. We’re probably bringing curses upon our parish because of it, you know.”

Henry always listened to my Monday morning rants while catching up on his Sunday paper. He took his coffee black–I knew this–but for 35 years I made it with a half teaspoon of sugar–he knew this. Black coffee connotates something strong, which Henry was, but he was also something of the endearing kind.

“It’ll be okay, Maggi. Besides, it's better than throwing it away and wasting it.”

Right after Henry served his time in the service, we got married and moved to the south side of the city. It was a more rundown part of town at the time, with little to do besides church events, porch dwelling, and the occasional 10-cent matinee where Cary Grant or Rock Hudson would keep us company for a bit, but we liked it. It wasn't long before my Henry was asked by the 5th Street parish to do some light janitorial work in his spare time and to also prep and set up the communion elements once a month.

Every second Saturday afternoon I would go with him to the market to pick up some low-alcohol content wine from Ginny's and then walk across the street to the bakery for some wafers. The Rector had specific instruction on what to buy, from whom to buy it, and how much to get. It would take only five minutes but be drawn out to nearly an hour as we talked with Phylis and Paul and Mabel. We only saw them once a month and this was our time to catch up. Nothing much changed in our stories, in fact Henry had a knack for attracting conversations that we had heard ten times before, but that others didn't remember telling. My Henry always listened as though it was the first time, even though it was rote to him, able to say it better than the originator. He did that with a lot of things in his life. Afterward, we went back to the parish, made sure everything was set for the morning and then took our place on the davenport in the sitting room for a moment and sat quietly before going home. There was something about the church that made it seem alive when it was only the two of us sitting there.

Back at breakfast I continued my discourse. "I just don't understand why Reverend John insists on the same amount of wafers every month. He knows we don't use half of them."

"Maybe he's hopeful that more people will come one communion Sunday and join the church. We wouldn't want to run out on them. How would we feel if that nice young couple who just began coming showed up and there was no supper for them? That wouldn't be very hospitable. Besides, the ducks like the bread." Henry said this with his half smile that would make me want to pop him if it didn't look so good on him.

"Henry, you know as well as I do that as soon as a family joins the parish, two people die within a month's end. The congregation has been the same size for the 35 years we’ve been there."

I remember this conversation because it was the last one I had with my Henry. He shuffled to his part time job later that morning and was hit by a car who never looked back. The injuries themselves were bad, but in the end it was the loss of his somewhat rare blood type that took Henry away from me. The doctors could possibly have saved him if they had more of the type in storage, but they didn’t. We didn't even get to say goodbye to each other. That's all I have to say about that.

Once things settled down from the funeral and family visiting, Reverend John thought it comforting to hand over the communion setup to me. Around this time he also decided to change from wafers to bread chunks, saying that he liked the imagery of the pieces all knowingly coming from one loaf, a very unifying symbol that we share in the same body that is Christ. All I know is that it was two dollars cheaper for a tedious amount of extra work.

Just like the what, whom, and how much, there was now a certain way to cut the fresh bread, according to the Rector, into “perfect sized” chunks; if too big it would take more than one bite, if too small it would be difficult to dip in the communion cup and not enough wine would be present. On top of this, no crust was to be present (that would require extra chewing, God forbid) and the bread was not to be smashed in the process as to make it more dense. This is how communion was prepared and served for the next 20 years. In a church like ours, it took some time for the parishioners to make the change, but once we got used to it, it was like it had always been this way.
Until today.

I sat alone in the second last pew on the east side of the building where the stained glass window of Jude, patron saint of lost causes, illuminates about mid morning and, like clockwork, right around the time we sing a hymn of response to the message. Communion starts and people slowly go to the front to partake of the wine and blood, the bread and flesh of my Jesus. I look down and to the side, as though I’m meditating or praying, but am really focusing out of the corner of my eye, noticing the reactions to the bread that is cut bigger than usual.

I notice multiple faces with strange looks on them, knowing something is off, but not quite sure what it is. I see a few people make a gag reflex or hear a cough signifying that the flesh of Christ was too hard for them to swallow today. They keep themselves well composed as to not disturb the service or bring embarrassment upon themselves. We all got used to the blood-soaked bread going down easy after one chew. We didn’t expect it to choke us; we did expect it to follow routine.

All of this, though, was mere shenanigans, an appetizer to the main course.

You see, Bill Simeleck was a deacon at the 5th Street parish. He was a mostly well-mannered, lifelong bachelor who owned his own paint business outside of town. We went to high school together, though never really knew each other except for the time or two he tried to get in my trousers. I always had the feeling he had a something for me. Henry would say, “Of course he has something for you. You’re beautiful Maggi.” He stopped making any subtle flirtatious moves once Henry passed.

About 5 years after the accident I heard by way of the Main Street Hair Parlor gossip that Bill Simeleck was in the hospital and wasn’t doing well. Apparently, for religious reasons, he was refusing any blood transfusions, though “it probably didn’t matter”, according to Betty Sue, who worked at the hospital, because “of his rare blood type.” He ended up recovering fine, but I later came to find that he had the same type as my Henry. I put two and two together and figured out that if Bill Simeleck wouldn’t receive blood, he wouldn’t give any either.

When you spend any decent amount of time with a person, you pick up on patterns and nuances of life. This goes the same for a small group of people if you pay attention close enough and this attention to the parishioners is what started the main course on its way.

I knew that Mary wouldn’t be here today because Friday night bingo was a blowout for her and she wouldn’t have money to put in the offering plate. I knew that the Checkets were visiting their son’s church this weekend, and that the Murphys were on vacation. I also knew Phillip wouldn’t take communion because he weaseled his way into a few extra pain meds at the pharmacy last night while I was picking up milk. Even weasels have consciences. There was somewhat of a guess as to how many other oddballs might be missing. I simply chose one hoping to be right.

I also knew that I wouldn’t be taking communion that day.

All this mattered because Bill Simeleck was always the last one to take communion. He waited until everyone else had gone. Some type of humble pride in putting others before himself and letting others know.

I stopped counting after the first few people, and just listened and watched those before him wrestle with the enormity of communion that day. Then, on cue, like a stage play, it happened. Bill Simeleck looked into the bread basket and exchanged views with Reverend John and everything fell into place. Still composed but confused, the Reverend leaned in and whispered, “I’m sorry William, there’s no more left for you.” Nobody else noticed, but the verbal damnation is crisp and clear to me in perfect view of the pronouncement from lips to ears.

I look toward Saint Jude and touch my lapel where the broach that Henry bought me for our first anniversary resides. My rings no longer fit my withered hands, though I can still feel them at times. The service finishes as usual and I sigh to myself that I’m tired of this place. I want to go see my Henry.

Reverend John makes his way towards me now, in no such rush.

“Good morning, Margaret,” he says in his nice, normal, pastoral tone. “Would you mind having a word with me in my office?”

I’m going to miss feeding those ducks this afternoon.


...continue reading...

June 15, 2010

Fear Not [kory]

She is fighting so hard

Why not let go?

It just seems too easy

Please! Damn it! Choose peace!!

Torment and torture

Tears of frustration

She wakes to look through me

A deep chill in my soul

I just want to miss you

The hustle is over

Your place is prepared

He’s calling you home

Alone in the darkness

Tears warming your grey hands

Prayers for an ending are raised just for you

I have to go home now

My kids need their daddy

Now run toward the light

Sweet lady, go home.


...continue reading...

Two Dreams [annie m]

It's a dark evening in the middle of an inner city neighborhood. There's a mystery afoot and my friend Heather (or someone who feels like Heather) and I have decided to follow a man that we believe to be involved. We don't feel any danger and we walk along leisurely, chatting and laughing as we follow this unknown guy. Little "I'm-gonna-be-four" Liam is with us, running ahead and then back again, kicking and throwing the beer cans, and jumping off concrete blocks that are lying around. I see that he has a runny nose and call him over.

"Alright, blow."

He barely blows his nose.

I smack him in the back of his head.

"Liam, blow hard!"

He does. Through his mouth.

I smack him in the head again.

"Liam! Blow through your nose!"

He does, and snot gets all over the tissue and my hand. Nasty.

At that point, the mystery man walks back past us.

"Does he have a fever?" He asks over his shoulder as he passes.

"No," I snap, trying to clean off my hand.

Heather looks at me. "Yes, he does! Look at him!"

I do. His little eyes are glazed and red-rimmed and his cheeks are flushed. He's cheerful, but he very obviously doesn't feel well.

"Oh, my baby! I'm sorry, Sweetie! I didn't notice!" And I pull him to me and hold him.


I wake up. Weird dream. My soul is really troubled, but I don't know why. I get up and suddenly the tears start. I'm crushed by the realization that for the last year, I've missed my son. I've ignored him and pushed him aside, waiting for the time when I have other things in order to pay attention to him. Other people have seen in him things that I haven't even looked at. He's been the bright sunshine in my life, and I've been annoyed. The thought of how I've behaved toward him sickens me. I tiptoe into his room, seeking comfort and forgiveness. He is so beautiful. The light from the street filters in through his window, making his pale skin glow. A good picture of his heart. I've never met anyone so completely Heart. Looking at him only increases the pain and I leave the room so I don't wake him with my crying. I go back to bed, but the regret and sadness are overwhelming and I just sob. I try to tell myself that it was just a stupid little dream, but my heart is not convinced. Gene wakes up, puts his arms around me and speaks words of comfort and forgiveness. We talk until, exhausted from emotion, I fall back asleep.


It begins in a farmyard in a Zelda-inspired world. I have a mission to accomplish. I figure out how to get out of the gate and start on my journey.

Just as I am coming to the final scene, two witches attack. I try to run to the goal, but there's no way - the witches are standing right behind me. So I turn toward them.

They observe me, casually.

"Yeah, we were wondering why you were running. You can't make it."

They summon two enormous snakes that bear down on me.

I call for my horse.

He comes, but the sight of snakes paralyzes him and I can't get him to go. I try to outrun the snakes, but trip and fall. Crawling backwards, I scream as one of the snakes opens its mouth and lunges.

"Sweetie, you know if you're really sorry, the curse can't touch you."

Startled out of terror, I ask blankly, "What?"

The witches are looking at me, unconcerned and matter-of-fact.

"Yeah, if you're really sorry for what you did, they can't hurt you."

I somehow understand that they're talking about Liam.

"I am!" I exclaim, sincerely. "I am so sorry! I'm so sad that it happened at all. I wish I could undo it!"

They shrug, "Then the curse can't touch you."

Completely shocked, I watch the snakes slither away.

The witches then turn to me and wave their wands. I am turned into a hen - a golden hen - and returned to the farmyard.


I awake completely at peace. I don't understand it. Another seemingly stupid dream,
but I feel free. Released. Someone is standing by the bed and I roll over to give Liam room to crawl in. He smiles at me and snuggles in. Comfort and forgiveness.


...continue reading...

Good [rachel]

I’m tired of writing about tears.

I don’t mind experiencing them,

But making them public--

Enough for now.

Instead I will write about the robin

I saw

Hopping on the roof

In the sunshine

The echo of child laughter

I heard

Lingering

On city streets

The sound of cello music

The taste of little donuts

Peace, love

The smell of paint

On canvas

The sight of a smile on

His face

Her face

Your face

That I will see in person

So very soon.


...continue reading...

June 11, 2010

Id Est [judd]

You take me to
The update bar
And leave me there
A little far
From where
I was a while ago
But closer not to
Where?

You go
But I wait upon the night
Trash cans guard
Beneath pole lights
Slinking shapes.
Is that Bob?
In the dark landscape
He calls to no one
And they reply

Sometimes I wonder if my sole trait
Is to bend what you’ve made straight


...continue reading...

June 10, 2010

The First Fight [jay]

He moved slowly, edging his way to the left, seeking to gain an advantage over the longer reach of his adversary. Rimmed by fellow victims, he imagined himself to be a tiger leaping at its prey. He moved in quick and hard, hoping to land a quick body blow to the lower ribs followed by a straight jab to the nose, just like Dad had told him. With guard raised, the initial execution of his plan began perfectly.

As the fight began, everything moved into slow motion. The long, dirty bangs of the bully were shrouding his eyes, masking their fear and hatred. The antagonist’s underarms were wet and his feet moved slowly under the weight of his stocky frame. Never before had the enemy experienced someone answer his challenge. Always a bully and never a fighter, fear gripped his heart at the sight of the fire in the eyes of the boy two years his younger. Never before had a second grader had this kind of guts.

“You better back off,” the bully said.

“Never,” the boy said, his blue eyes blazing.

“I’m gonna kill you,” the fourth grader threatened again.

The boy didn’t care anymore. Sick and tired of the bully, he had prepared for this moment, the point in time when resolve conquers fear and courage is born. He stepped in quick and hard, his eyes focused on landing that punch to the nose. As he rushed in, the bully kicked him in the groin with all his power.

Nauseated and doubled over in pain, the boy fell to the ground. His eyes filled with tears and his ears filled with the laughter of the bully. Trying to choose between throwing up and getting up, he just couldn’t move.

Things moved from slow motion to standstill. What would his friends think? Would they laugh at him? Is this what courage brings you – embarrassment? What about justice? What about the code? What would Dad say? Why is it that when you try the hardest you get beaten down the most? This was not fair.

But Justice was watching.

The rules of the playground had been violated. Everyone there knew that what had just transpired was one of the dirtiest forms of cheating. His friends gathered around the boy and helped him up. The bully stood there laughing, waiting to see what he would do next. The boy faced him, hunched over with his hands on his knees, staring at the bully, surrounded by his friends – all of them glowering at the bulky fourth grader. And then they turned and walked away.

No one picked on the boy or his friends ever again.


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June 8, 2010

I Tracked Mud in On Purpose Because . . .[mike]

I tracked mud in on purpose because.

I tracked mud in on purpose because I.

I tracked mud in on purpose because I missed you.

You’re all grown up now. You live in your own house and you visit us on our birthdays and most holidays.

I just heard this song playing in the background and it made me think of you so I went out to the backyard, right in the middle of the biggest rain storm you’d ever seen, and I stomped in place until the spot beneath my feet became brown and squishy. Then I walked straight into the house, across the white carpet, through the kitchen, down the hall and into the living room, leaving gi-normous footprints behind me. I turned around and stared at my work of art.

Pretty dirty.

I didn’t get upset like I used to when you were little. I didn’t throw my hands in the air and shake my head either. I didn’t even mutter a curse word beneath my breath. You know what I did?

I smiled.

Then I grinned (which is bigger than a smile).

Then I started to laugh. I laughed louder and louder and louder until Mom heard me from upstairs and came rushing down to see what was so funny.

“What on earth are you doing?” she said with this concerned look.

“What does it look like I’m doing?” I bellowed, “I’m tracking mud through the house!”

“Why yes, I can see that,” she replied. “Why, may I ask, are you doing this?”

At this point, Mom was looking me up and down with a look only reserved for a person who’d completely lost their mind. She kept glancing to the trail across the carpet behind me, then back to me, then back to the trail.

I stopped laughing and pulled myself together. Then, I collapsed in the chair by the front window.

“I miss them,” I said. I smiled at her. She looked at me for a second and then she smiled to. I could tell by her expression that she felt the same way.

“Me too,” she groaned.

“They weren’t kidding when they said ‘it would go by too fast,’ were they?”

“Nope.”

“We have amazing kids don’t we?” I said.

Mom smiled and nodded. “We sure do,” she replied. “And we had a ton of fun watching them grow. I wouldn’t trade a moment, good or bad.”

I agreed completely. “Me either,” I said. “I smile when I think of all those years.”

I looked up at her and leaned in and softly kissed her cheek. “You have to admit it though babe,” I said with a goofy sounding voice. “My artwork is a masterpiece right?”
I waved my arm toward the footprints like I was introducing a new car on the Price Is Right.

Mom rolled her eyes. “It sure is,” she said sarcastically. “You’re a regular Da Vinci.”
She patted me gently on the shoulder and stood up. As she rounded the corner and I heard familiar words.

“Make sure you clean up your artwork at some point, please.” She chuckled and continued on down the hallway. I stared again at the footprints across the carpet. I thought of you and all your brothers and sisters. I thought of your innocent faces when we would scold you for things like getting mud on the carpet, or fingerprints on the walls, or food on the sofas, and I smiled again. Although you did grow up learning to respect your house, and each other, and your mother and I, you were still creative and daring and adventurous. You were pure kid, through and through. When Mom and I would panic and fear that we were screwing up, or being too harsh, or not harsh enough, God knew what He was doing. He knew what He was going through us and in you.

That truth fills me with unspeakable joy and passion. I’m so proud of the people you’ve become. I’m so proud of the paths you’ve chosen. They’re filled with creativity and dreams. I’d like to think that you tracking mud in or dragging Mom’s craft drawer out and making a mess on the kitchen table all those times had something to do with that. Maybe it did.

I guess what I really want to say is ‘thanks.’ Thanks for teaching me that life is meant to be enjoyed, not monitored. Life is meant to be lived carefree not confined by boundaries. Boundaries are very important, yes. But if we live and die by them we’ll miss so much that life offers. We’d miss the freedom of it.

Thank you for teaching us this.

So yes! I did it. I tracked mud in on purpose. I tracked mud in on purpose because……because I missed you. I miss your muddy footprints. The carpet looks too clean. I miss your sticky fingerprints. The walls are too shiny. I never thought I’d feel that way, but I do. So now you know….if you ever come over and see muddy footprints across the carpet, you’ll know that you’re missed….and adored….and loved….always.


...continue reading...

June 4, 2010

How I Find Out [hannah]

My mom doesn’t come to pick Sarah and me up. As we’re sitting on the porch of the lodge with our suitcases, Jared’s car pulls into the parking lot. I’m kinda bummed when I see it. The air-conditioning in his car sucks. I grab my bag and throw its strap over my shoulder. I see Jared’s door open. He steps out of the driver’s seat. The passenger door opens and his friend Charlie steps out. It seems a little weird that Jared’s here. He’s not usually the kind of brother to drive two hours to pick up his little sister. I can’t even imagine what my mom had to do to convince him to come.

Sarah and I carry our bags down to the parking lot. Jared smiles at both of us. Just with his mouth though. The rest of his face looks too tired or bored or busy to smile.

“Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” I say back. “What are you doing here?”

Jared reaches for my bag. “Mom needed me to come get you guys.” He sounds weird. Nice. Not the way an eighteen year-old would talk to his little sister and step-sister. And I don’t like the way he’s still half-smiling at us.

“What’s going on?” I say.

He doesn’t answer. He pops the trunk and pushes my bag into it. He takes Sarah’s bag from her and shoves it in as well.

I don’t understand why I’m not getting any information from Jared. I look over at Charlie. I don’t know how Jared conned him into driving all this way with him. I didn’t even think they were that close of friends.

Charlie’s watching Jared, and then meets my gaze. He stares at me for a second, then smiles. His smile is still hanging on his mouth as he goes back to watching Jared shut the trunk.

Jared heads back to his seat. I look over at Sarah. She’s frowning after Jared. At least she can tell that something’s not right. It’s not just in my head. We both stand there for a second. Jared and Charlie are already back in the car.

Sarah moves. She walks to the seat behind Jared and climbs in. I grab the car door and slide in behind Charlie. He’s watching my brother again. I can see a fraction of a smile still lingering on the corners of his mouth. Then Jared starts the car. He pulls out of the parking lot. He accelerates onto the freeway and clears his throat. Charlie looks forward.

“I have to tell you guys something,” Jared says.

My stomach drops. My skin tingles. I’ve heard people say that when something bad happens, the world slows down. But it doesn’t right now. Right now it’s the opposite. It’s speeding. I see that whatever is about to happen is horrible and I want to stop it. I feel it rushing at me and I can’t figure out how to pause it.

I see Jared glance into the rearview mirror. His eyes meet mine and then Sarah’s. I try to yell, I don’t want to hear it, but I’m not fast enough.

“It’s Isaac, isn’t it?” Sarah says.

I’m so mad at her for saying it. I want to scream at her to shut up. I just want it to stop.

Jared looks at us in the rearview mirror again.

“Yeah.”

Sarah bursts into tears.

No. Jared, stop.

“He’s gone.”

Sarah wails. My face burns. Hot pain rips through my throat. Jared’s eyes turn back to the road.

This isn’t how things work. Your life can’t change this fast. You can’t go away for a stupid retreat, and lose part of your family.

With just a few words. With a glance in a rearview mirror.

I think I’m crying now. I’m not sure. All I feel is something clawing its way through my throat. The pain is suffocating me. Or maybe I’m just suffocating as it is. I can’t breathe past these knives slicing through me.

Sarah’s sobbing fills the car. Flooding over all of us. Loud and shrill and sloppy. Jared’s quiet. Charlie stares forward.

I wonder how much time has passed in this car. Twenty-five seconds? Thirty? So short an amount of time I should be able to undo it. Go back somehow. Wake up from this nightmare. It can’t be real.

I don’t want to, but I see him. His face. His ugly naso-gastric tube taped to his cheek. His giant blue eyes roaming around without focus. The vision of my baby brother ignites a pain that throbs in my head. I grab it with both hands and lean over my lap. The pain swells outward on my skull. It pulsates with Sarah’s sobs.

The visions come faster now. They fly through the dark behind my eyelids.

His hands folded in front of him.

He watches them from the corners of his eyes.

His wisps of blond hair.

His skinny legs.

His half-smiles.

His machines, that fed him and medicated him, and couldn’t save him.

“What happened?” Sarah screams.

Shut up! I don’t want to know what happened. If she could just be quiet for a second, I could figure out a way to undo all of this.

Jared doesn’t answer her. He just looks at her as she rocks back and forth and weeps. He looks at me. All I can see in the mirror are his eyes. Quiet and broken.

I know I’m crying now. I squeeze my eyes shut harder and harder with each sob. Grab my head and try to will this moment to never have happened. The cries grow stronger. Like they’re not from me; they’re some creature living inside me. Mutating. Gaining power. Taking over more and more of my body. Wrenching me into a ball. Crushing my stomach muscles together. I feel myself disappearing into them. I open my eyes to escape.

I look up and see the back of Charlie’s head. He stares forward. Blond hair past his ears. His neck has red splotches in it. He sits in a car with three siblings who are falling apart.

I forget myself for a second and wonder what he’s feeling. How he can stand sitting there with Sarah’s wailing and Jared’s silence?

I wonder what it feels like to be stuck with us.

Trapped in a car with us. Trapped in a memory we’ll be desperate to forget.


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June 2, 2010

Invisible Babies [jake]

I had a vision of an
invisible baby—
formless, empty. An idea
of a blink
in the eye of a ghost.
Unseen, forgotten by some,
but not all forgotten,
not forgotten by all.

There are so many,
I thought.

I cried out to You for the
invisible babies!
You give them form!
You fill them up! I know
that You, of all, have not
forgotten
them! You have not
forgotten
me…

(My frame was not hidden from You,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance.)


I cried.

We are all invisible babies.


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June 1, 2010

I Remember This Feeling [steffeny]

I remember this feeling.

Oh this familiar feeling. I remember it well. Though it’s been long since I last felt it.

That feeling of quick release after being so stuck. Still stuck. But that moment of quick and quiet release.

It happened in Africa.

Stuck in Rwanda. Hard questions. Hard sights. No answers. Stuck. We were stuck there.
Dead bodies. Curious children. Crying babies. Machetes hacking. Hacking. The cold. Detached unfeeling feeling floating in the air. Ever present. Pain. Pain. Brokenness. How do we deal? Where was God? What is justice? What is mercy? This is too big. We’re choking. We’re choking. We aren’t breathing.

And so we escaped. Girls piled on a small bed. Piled on top of one another. Arms linked and legs intertwined. In a pile we laid there. Staring together. Together staring at the small screen of a laptop.

Grey’s was our salvation. The moment. The one opportunity to escape this world of questions. And answers. Solutions. And stuckness.

Oh how we were stuck there.

And here I am. In this house. In this house in St. Louis. Stuck. The drama of the medical show helping me to escape for one brief moment the questions. The feelings. The confusion that I have. Giving me reason and permission to shed a tear that has been stuck. Giving me distance and some sort of perspective on all of the things that are so in my face. So zero-ed in on. So inescapable. The things that make me stuck.

What are these things? I don’t even know. They’re too close. So close. Only after this show can I even realize that I am feeling my feelings. Help. I’m afraid I can’t make it. Why am I here? What is Jesus doing? Is he still leading me? Is he still loving me? Even when I look away and put things before him? Even when I act like a loser and forget the most important things? Im forgetful. Im not on track. Im not making him happy.

And slowly. Slowly by feeling my feelings, I can start to feel His too. You see, that’s where I was wrong. I am making him happy. Just by resting. By watching this show. By hearing and reconnecting with my heart. By feeling. By embracing the human condition. We are forgetful. We are, at times, not on track. But oh how we make him happy. We make him so so happy. And that’s something we shouldn’t ever forget. He loves you and he loves me, just because we are. Just by our nature. Just because of who He is. He can’t help but love us even when we’re disgusting and covered with mud and boogers. He loves us sooo much. And if watching Grey’s or Private Practice or whatever helps me to remember my heart. Or my humanity. Or who He is. Then that’s the way my heart at that moment in that place is called to worship. Who knew watching prime time television could be a way for this heart worship?!

Thank you Jesus for who you are and how you care for us. Dad, my heart feels lame and limp, weak and waning. Oh how I need you. Teach these eyes to be fixed on you. I love you Oh Lord, my pops.



Aww sweet shalom.


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May 28, 2010

Happy Poem [olivia]

I haven’t written much poetry
But it’s all been pretty dark
Mostly death of people and dreams
Paranoid, I stopped and thought about it
To check my own pulse

Yup, still alive

A life full of family and love and ideas
Of surprise endings and setbacks and shortcuts
Of bandaged knees and battered books
Of make-believe and beef stroganoff
Of coaching, correcting, and collecting
Of really weak push-ups and persistent hiccups
Of flossing, forgiving, and forecast-checking
Of budgeting for propane and pot roast
Of spur-of-the-moment cocktails named after PBS programs
Of debating facts and forgetting debates
Of risks, rejection, and redemption
Of yelling for my team and whispering to stuffed animals
Of singing, snipping, slathering, soaking, surgery, and sock matching

But those things don’t seem to make the cut
They don’t stop me in my tracks
Squeeze my heart and lungs
Knock me on my butt
Make me write it out
The way death does

So I’ll affix my name to this poem
My happy poem
And use a pen-name for the rest


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Story Recall [jana]

It’s only when I start singing a song word-for-word from a movie I watched when I was young, or recall a commercial I saw as a child that I realize now and then just how much pop culture has impacted my thinking. I don’t regret these influences, for the most part; I think the redeeming beauty of artistic endeavor has in many ways been a huge part of my own salvation walk. Now it seems that “taste” in stories can polarize us faster than most other conversational material, but I want to go back and re-discover what I loved about the stories I remember most, what caught my attention and why.

Reading the Lord of the Rings for the first time began changing my thinking about story. I was sixteen, and was sick of the sappy romantic fare that the library mostly had in stock in the teen section. I would seek through the section for something new and interesting, but then invariably end up back in the Children’s section with my old friends L. Frank Baum, L.M. Montgomery, Marguerite Henry, Lewis Carroll and C.S. Lewis. I started making forays into the Adult fiction section, some of which were met with success, some not. It was like a treasure hunt, sorting through the stacks for stories that caught my interest, reading book jackets, flipping through to read excerpts…Finally I found what I was looking for in the “Fantasy” section. Fairy tales, my native language, but with complexity and beauty. Having loved Roverandom, Tolkein’s children’s story about a little dog who travels to the moon, I spotted the familiar name on the spine of a book I had never heard of; The Fellowship of the Ring.

Nowadays, it’s impossible for a 16-year-old to not have heard of the story. But a triple-threat combination of homeschooling, small-town living, and a conservative background in which anything smacking of “magic ” except for the mildest of children’s stories was kept far away allowed me to discover the books on my own (incidentally, I wouldn’t have it any other way). After reading the back (catching C.S. Lewis’ name on the cover convinced me) of the hardcover with a rune symbol pressed on the front and filled with gold leaf, I took it to the front to check it out.

“Have you ever read this one?” The Librarian gushed. I shook my head, and her eyes popped. She came around the counter and marched me back to the fantasy section to check out the Two Towers and the Return of the King. “You’ll thank me later,” she said, then told me, “Read it with Celtic music in the background.” She twittered back to the desk with me and my stack of books in her wake, somewhat bewildered. What kind of Celtic-music-loving situation was I getting myself into? I had disappeared into stories other times in my life, but this was absolutely and totally absorbing. I think I read until 3:00am that morning. Years later, in a Fantasy Literature class in college, as I read George MacDonald’s Phantastes for the first time, I also read C.S. Lewis’s description of first reading it as a “baptism of the imagination” that set Lewis on his long and winding road to his eventual Spiritual baptism. This idea of baptism of the imagination fully resonated with me because of how I felt about reading Tolkien’s masterpiece.

During my first year in college, I did a lot of discovering pop culture I had never had occasion to explore before. I watched ‘Friends’ and ‘Survivor’ now and then, with a gathering of faithful fans in the downstairs lounge on Thursday nights…I saw ‘The Sixth Sense,’ ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,’ and ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion.’ My roommate was a rugby player, but she was also a choral singer and loved music. She played “Tears in Heaven” on her classical guitar when she felt especially meditative. While I was still listing the Newsboys and Amy Grant among my favorite bands, Anna introduced me to new music. Dave Matthews Band, a music sountrack from the TV show ‘Mad About You’, Sarah MacLachlan, the Newfie band Great Big Sea, Eric Clapton, the Barenaked Ladies, plenty of choral music, and the last and most influential, the Canadian Broadway Cast soundtrack of The Phantom of the Opera. One night when Anna was gone, I dug through her CD collection to find something inspiring to listen to while working on a final project for my drawing class. Anna came back to the room around midnight to find that my project—four head studies at different angles—had become a study on masks, and me working feverishly with charcoal and tears smudging my face.

While I love stories of any kind, movies combine stories with a visual experience that reaches me at a different level altogether. Significant experiences with movies include the first movie I ever cried at with girlfriends (The Land Before Time, on my 9th birthday!) The first movie I ever cried at in theaters (the Robin Williams/Bill Cosby/Diane Lane/Jennifer Lopez tearjerker Jack). We all sat in the food court and sobbed 15-year-old tears over our French fries while talking about it. While my friends and I adopted mostly our favorite rom-coms for movie nights (While You Were Sleeping, That Thing You Do, You’ve Got Mail, The Princess Bride), varying to some touching drama (Life is Beautiful, all things Austen), I remember clearly watching a movie that was something different. It starred Hugh Grant, so it wasn’t a real indie, but it really was a small-market movie which addressed some real, human issues. The characters were all flawed, and circumstances and emotions were addressed in a very real, very human way. We picked About a Boy off the shelf at the grocery store because Hugh Grant was on the cover, but it surprised us with its depths of humanity; sorrow, fear, and loneliness were real, but so were humor, love, and that element of ridiculousness that rings true for all of us, aided by music from the UK band Badly Drawn Boy. We were all under 20 years old at the time, but this was one of the first films I can remember clearly which made me realize the connection between the drama and the comedy of life.

These are some of the stories which have defined me and taught me, set me on the road to write and learn my own story.


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May 25, 2010

Spiral [vanessa]

Creation...
Man, woman
Enjoying life together
Hearts beating as one
Pure

Exposure...
Raw, vulnerable
Soul peels inward
Engulfed in quick sand
Shame

Naked...
Not ashamed
Grace being received
Tears mingled with beauty
Free


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Twenty Four [annie o]

It is the count between
measures of sun: again
crescendo, again hush,
expecting the repeat.

It is the tomb, still sod
and soil, uninformed
of flesh and coffin
coming with a shovel.

Or silence who, mindless
of thunder’s clap, startles
at the sudden knock from
sound, the slow traveler.

It is the monk, patient,
gardening curs├ęd earth,
though reaping fruit heavy
on branches in Eden.

Or the wedding: the groom
and guests await the bride’s
approach. She, elsewhere, veiled
and shaking starts to walk.

The white sea floods the plain,
not baring that summer
wheat will ripple as waves
across the thawed sea bed.

So the revolutions
continue, the unknown
awaited thing, coming
soon, has been accomplished.


...continue reading...

May 21, 2010

A Letter [jessi g]

Note: the following is written to a fictional person. Any resemblance it bears to the reader is unintended. Many people close to me have struggled with depression, and my response has not always been healthy, helpful, or compassionate. I hope you’ll forgive some of the cluelessness expressed in this piece, and see it as honest processing from a friend struggling in the dark.

a letter:

I know you’re struggling to cope with every morning. You lay in bed watching the light filter in through the window shades, and it’s impossible to consider facing the day.

Of course, you know I’m a fixer, and I’d love nothing more than to take whatever’s broken or unhappy in your life and make it better. To ease your troubles.

The anti-depression medication commercial that plays on the radio informs me that you can’t “just snap out of it”, but that’s not what I was expecting, anyway. I’ve had my own down times. But they have been short seasons, not like the epic battles you face, day in and day out. You don’t believe me when I tell you I know how to put myself in your shoes.

Your response is to roll your eyes and say, “well alright for you”, which is really just another way of writing me off. After all, reasonably happy people couldn’t possibly have any insight to your experience.

And while we’re on that topic, I hate that sense of superiority I get from you. You’re using depression as a reason to feel different or special. I could give you a hundred reasons to feel so, and none of them involve shutting the world out and refusing to cope. Things like your deep compassion, especially for those who are hurting; your sunny smile, which I have not seen in months; your sharp wit and your insight into other people.

I hate watching you give up on yourself, especially when it’s such a false limitation. There’s no reason in the world that you can’t be or do everything you once wanted, except that you’ve hit this glass ceiling--a barrier visible only to you. You feel stuck, and can’t move forward. “I can’t meet you for lunch today,” you text me. “It’s my depression again.” Your depression. You call it that like it’s a pet, or a child. Like the school called again and asked you to come get it because it was acting up in class, and the teacher sent it to the principal’s office. I wonder what would happen if one day, you decided not to answer the call.

Sometimes I wonder if you’re faking it. Like you need to have some kind of drama in your life to seem worthwhile to yourself. If you don’t have two guys fighting over you, or co-workers lying about you to your boss, or trouble with your family, you’re not important enough for people to pay attention to. You can’t blame me too much for asking--is it possible you’re blind to that pattern? I swear each of your relationships last about as long as a menstrual cycle. A giggling flirtatious peak followed abruptly by a week of tears and chocolate.

I know it’s not that simple. There are forces at work in your life--things that have happened to you that weren’t in your control. I know, too, that when a beast like depression gets hold of you, all of your perspective disappears, and you can only see how big and insurmountable the mountains in your life are. I know you feel ringed in and overwhelmed.

I wish you could hear from me right now, because what you really need to know is, nothing you feel is true. Like an addict, you feel inexorably drawn to the thing that’s killing you. Maybe there’s a sick, self-sabotaging element to your behavior—like you somehow deserve less goodness or happiness than the rest of us, and so you’re going to keep yourself locked in the same abusive cycle.

You and I both know that most of the shit in your life didn’t just happen to you--you chose it. It’s a sickening realization, one you’re tempted to run from. I can hear you asking, “Am I really that f*cked up?” But I hope, once you get over the shock of it, that it brings you to a shining conclusion: that you do have a choice.

Every breath you take is a conscious decision to keep living, and on some level if you’re doing that, you must believe that this can’t last forever. Please believe that it can’t last forever.

I never give up hoping that, if you can’t hear this from me, maybe you’ll someday be able to take it from someone. And when you do, I hope it provides you with a glimpse of the way out.


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Yellow [kris]

Titillating.
French cut, pleather leotard.
Perched upon your Alexander McQueens—campy canary.
The design is there:
Moist skin,
tucked and pushed in all the right places.
Crimson lips,
with the texture of warm, dripping honey.
But the design is inverted.
Its not alluring, it hurts.
It stings.
And instead of adjusting to the sting, shockingly I’m cut deeper.
Pulled deeper.
By the edgy mix of flesh and art.
The ratio is the same,
but the sum is different.
I’m glad you’ve kept your Italian nose.
I’m glad your eyes are sharp.
I’m glad that when I lean in, and listen.
You’re not singing a siren song.
You’re not inviting the world to an excruciating death between your legs.
No.
You show us how absurd it all is.
How depraved we are at our cores.


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Break Down the Door [liz]

Break down the door to my nostalgia
Let all creations of my mind run free
In the hopes that some may part
And cease their endless banter

I am the maker of these misfortunes
A tight fist, stubborn will, and muted interlude
Changed the course and blocked the chance
To return and be redeemed

I want your hills, I want your green
I want your voice not unseen
But I must wait, delight and patient
For the plan aligned adjacent


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May 18, 2010

Bookends [kory]

Bringing forth new life

A heart beat

Its own drum

The dance of a new day

That smile in your eye

Wind bringing changes

Promises fading

Last dance with young love

We cling to our minds

The light fading slowly

Drum beat grows distant

It just can’t be over

There’s still stars in my eyes


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Letters to a Three year-old, Part 2 [annie m]

My Son,

I'm at a loss and I feel like a failure. Today was the epitome of our relationship, I feel. It started off great. We hung out together and had great conversations and enjoyed each other. Then you yelled at and hit Emma and I yelled at you. You made her cry and I told you to get out. I hate saying that. I don't want to banish you from my presence. I don't even want to not deal with you. I just don't know how when Emma's crying, the chicken is burning and my hands are covered in salmonella. What am I supposed to do? I don't know. I lash out at you. Your Daddy takes you for a walk and I'm left alone with my latest failed attempt at parenting.

How do we get you to understand that you need to listen? How do we make you understand that you are not in competition with Emma for our love? What is it going to take to be your parents? I don't know.

I don't know how to make you stop throwing things in Emma's face. I don't know how to get you to stay out of the corner. I don't know how to make you understand that you can't just disobey Miss Courtney because it's more fun to run around by yourself. I don't have the faintest idea how to instill things like honor, courage, trustworthiness, and protectiveness in you. I feel so unequal to the task.

You are such a cool kid! You love making Emma laugh. You snuggle up so sweetly. You are so curious and alive. You love to learn and you love to run. You have the biggest eyes that show the enormous depths of your soul. I don't know how to spend enough time with you. I don't know how to give you enough love. I don't know how to see past your behavior to what you really need. God! How am I supposed to be your mom?!

But I love you. And I like you. I really like who you are. Even the things you do that are so naughty, I see traits of yours in them that are really cool. When you hit Emma when she refuses to play with you, I can see that you are hurt by her rejection, and I love that you put your heart out there. I love your curiosity and independence when you're getting into things you're not supposed to get into. I love that you find enjoyment in just running around - and if someone else wants to run around with you, great! I hope that you always love just running around. I just don't know how to get the little boy you are now into a man who is strong and confident in who he is and will do the right thing despite what his own self or others may want. What does it take?

------------------------------------

Mommy,

I love you, too. But I don't know what you want from me. You talk a lot, but I don't really understand what you're saying. Then you start yelling and I get so mad 'cause you hurt my feelings. Why do you always yell at me? Emma does stuff wrong all the time, but you don't yell at her. She's the one who starts touching the computer when you said not to, but then you yell at me.

I like when you read to me and when we do school. That's fun. But then, I don't want to stop being with you! I want to still have fun with you. I like being with you. You only do boring things and I think we would have more fun if you did what I want to do. You should come play with me. I could show you really fun things to do.

I love you. Just come play with me.


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May 14, 2010

Christmas Eve Funeral [judd]

Across the Country Road
(Christmas Eve 1997, Cumminstown PA)

Across the country road
To the country church
Not too far to go
To a Christmas Eve funeral
Ropes of pine boughs
Tied with ribbon, snake
Along the oak trim that
Gram dusted, polished
She lies there now
An oaken box her pew
Does her soul wish
To polish that wood too?

Glory to God

In the graveyard
There is a hole
About the place where
Dick kicked the skunk
A chamber carved into
The limestone soil
Next to Pap
Who dug so many
Holes for oaken boxes;
Circles unbroken

Glory to God

Children with visions of
Santa and Nintendo
Try to stay calm
In clothes they will wear
To church that night
Sad church today
Happy church tonight
Pallbearers wait outside
Honored casket hoisters

Glory to God



A solemn service on a
Chilly winter day
Ground uncovered
Dirt pile waiting
To fall in on top
Of this woman who
Spent her life keeping
Dirt off of things
And then back across
The country road
To the country house

Glory to God

We eat sandwiches and
Kays and Rays chips
And make small talk
With your cousin
While your mother in her
Wig and her sister the
Formerly favorite
Convene with husbands
To look at the will
Sis insisted on the reading
Even though the chamber
Is still not full of dirt

Glory to God

Then back across the
Country road and back
Across the mountain
They go, never for us
To see again.
Not even when,
Within the year,
Another oaken box
Is placed in another
Country church
Across a country road

Gloria in Excelsis Deo


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The Black Banner: The Discovery of Joy [jessie b]

Big, billowing, whipping, towering,
Flying, flowing, caressing, covering.
Soft, black textile weaving its way
Through petals of crimson and plum.
Fabric and flower meet in dance.

Pain, comfort, confusion, peace,
Loneliness, freedom, fear, trust.
Steadying presence surrounding me,
Filling every crack, each hole.
My emptiness isn’t really empty with You for


You are here.
You do hear.
You do heal.
You do love.

You are good.
You are hard.
You are soft.
You are joy.

My joy.







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May 11, 2010

Listen [rachel]

Listen

What does it mean to listen to others, to listen to myself? What does it mean to listen to God?

--------

Jess and I stop walking halfway across the bridge. The painted yellow steel beams rise straight up next to us, looking like strips of candy buttons I might have bought at the neighborhood pool years ago. “Maybe it doesn’t matter if Jesus was a historical figure or not,” she ventures. Almost defensively she continues, “The principles don’t change—love, sacrifice, honor. Maybe I sound like a heretic but that’s what I think.” We are talking about the deaths of mothers. As we start forward again, she remarks, “I don’t usually have conversations like this.”

--------

Marie and I anticipate our meal. The waiter fills the water glasses. The cool breeze makes it feel like we’re at the beach, and the tiny rows of lights come on overhead. Jim and Pete complete the foursome. I watch as they share food from each other’s plates. I see the smile in Jim’s eye, lighting his handsome face. Pete picks up the tab. I remember him saying not long ago, “I feel depressed when I’m alone.”

---------

With the car in park, we sit in front of her apartment.

“I don’t want Him around all the time. I need time to myself.”

I think she’s getting annoyed. “But what if He just loves you that much?”

“He’ll be with me when I need Him, just not all the time.”

---------

I hang up the phone. She laughed a lot tonight and asked many questions. I remember this one, “Are you going to send me something for Mother’s Day? I miss you.” I let my head rest against the steering wheel. The motor is off. The tears come easily and I let them. Then I walk several blocks though it’s dark. I want the air to un-redden my eyes before I go inside.

My hands have been shaking, too little sleep for the last few nights. I just had to finish the essay on time. I know I need to rest, but the sun is bright and the breeze is soft, so I walk to the post office. I choose the brightest packaging, pink with little white swirls. I kiss the book, place it inside and slip in the card labeled “Mom.” Only a month and a half, and I can go home. I feel the tears starting again.

---------

Just when we think the hammer will fall, He smiles and calls (to him, to her, to me)

“My Love—“


...continue reading...

The Stranger And The Brief Case [mike]

I bought this old bakery 2 years ago today. I'll never forget that day. More over, I'll never forget the few days before that. You have to understand, this is hard for me. I've never talked about this until now. I'm not sure this small town would be ready for a story like mine. It was two years and 3 days ago today that the stranger walked into my life for the first time. Actually, he walked into Divas, the club I worked at. Now, I'd like to tell you that I was part owner there, or a bartender, or even one of those cute waitresses you always see, but we both know that's not the truth. I was a dancer.

Back then I didn't go by the name Tracy. I was known as Sugar and I was one of the girls who came out and danced for the evening crowd. There was always a waiting list to get a private room with me.


"You're late!" Carl, the back door bouncer, said with a raspy voice. "You know that Joe wants you in here promptly at 8 pm before the late crowd shows up!"
"Ah, cut me some slack would ya Carl. It's rainin' cats and dogs out there," I snapped back. He glared at me and stomped away. I rolled my eyes and sat down at my dressing mirror. For a moment I stared at the person looking back at me until a soft voice interrupted my trance from behind.
"Hey Trace, how's the day been for ya?"
I smiled and looked up to see Gina. She was the only friend I had in this dive. 


"I'm doing okay Gina, how 'bout you?" I said.


"Pretty good, I guess. I've had better though. School's killing me right now. And I'm gonna be out on my tail if Joe keeps cutting my hours here. What a pig!"


"I know sweetie....I know," I replied. I wish I had more to say to her but the truth was, I needed this job too and I wasn't about to get in the middle of something that could get me in trouble. Gina reached over and patted my hand. She didn't look at me but I saw her smile in the mirror. I envied her because the future was bright and open for her. She was going somewhere and she knew it. This was a temporary stop for Gina. That was more than I could say for myself. Pregnant and married out of high school, a miscarriage 3 months in, and divorced a year later when he decided the girls on campus were more interesting than me. To say I felt lost was an understatement.


"Lets go girls, chop chop....I got hungry paying customers waiting for some action out there! Time is money, and your time is my money!" Joe shouted from the hallway. His thick Italian accent made him intimidating and fierce to all us girls. I changed quickly and headed for the stage.

The music started and I sighed. Just another night Trace, you can do this! I said to myself. The curtain opened and I strutted out to the piercing sounds of whistling and cat calls. I never felt as cheap and worthless as I did on the nights that I stepped onto that stage.


It was only thirty minutes, but that night, it felt like I was out there for an eternity. As I stepped through the curtain and off the stage, Joe grabbed my wrist and pulled me close to him. The smell of whiskey and stale cigar permeated the air as he brought his face close to mine.

"Hey ya Trace, I got a guy who needs a little Sugar with his spice if ya know what I'm sayin'. He's willing to pay me 5 times the amount I usually make off a guy in a private room with ya. If he leaves satisfied, I'll give ya a 40% cut....how does that sound?"
I held back the cough that was building in the back of my throat. "Sounds good Joe, just give me a minute to freshen up okay?"


"Just don't take all night!" He said belligerently and released my hand.

I splashed some perfume on my neck and swished some mouth wash then headed for for the upper level of the club where the private rooms were. I needed this money. I needed it badly.

I rehearsed my routine in my mind as I made my way up the steps to the room where the guy was waiting. I threw the curtain back and stepped in with a sexy smile and walk. He was sitting calmly in a padded chair against the wall. He wasn't like most clients. He was wearing faded jeans, a flannel shirt, and flip flops. His hair was shoulder length and brown. His eyes were dark but gentle looking. He said nothing as I walked in.
I gave him a desirable look and started my routine.

"Hey handsome, I'm Sugar, what'll it be tonight?" I said. He didn't say anything back to me. Oh, please don't be one of these types, I thought. I tried again, this time with a breathier voice. "I'm Sugar, honey, and I'll make your wildest dreams come true. I can give you the run down of what I do, don't do, do for extra, and all that good stuff if you'd like."


He said nothing.
I was getting frustrated.

"Come on pal, I don't got all night here. I got a whole crowd needing me out there so if you're not gonna....."


"I was hoping I could talk to you for a while," he interrupted.


"Huh?" I blurted out.


"I've been waiting a long time for this moment. I want to talk to you, Tracy."


I stepped back and glared at him. "What...did... you just call me?"


"Tracy. That's your name," he said.


"I know that's my name! But how'd you know it?"


He smiled. "I know all about you Tracy. Where you live. What your hobbies are. What you dream of. What makes you cry. The hurts you have. What you want out of life. What inspires you. Everything."

I started to feel terrified. I darted for the opening in the curtain.


"It's not your fault Tracy...what he did to you when you were thirteen. He was your father."


I froze. My body began to tremble. I turned sharply and stepped toward him. "Who are you? How do you know me? What gives you the right to say anything about me or my father?"


"Tracy, it's not your fault. I know that you feel empty inside. I know that your broken relationship with him and what happened led you to this place."


"STOP IT!" I screamed. "Stop saying that. You have no idea what I've been through. I don't know where you're getting all of this but you need to leave. If you don't I'm calling security."


"Tracy, please talk to me. That's all I want to do is talk to you," he replied calmly. He looked at me with this look too....like….I was worth something. He didn't look me up and down like I was a piece of flesh either. He looked me in the eye.
I dropped my arms to my side.

"Okay...okay," I said, then sat down across from him.
"So, what are we talking about?"


"You," he replied.


"Me?"


"Yes, you."


"What about me?" I replied.


His face lit up. "You're beautiful Tracy. Your smile can light up the darkest place. Did you know that?"


I shook my head. I was trying hard to ignore him.
He went on. "And you're funny too. You make me laugh when I think about you.”

"Yeah...well...let me tell you pal...I've heard all this before. I get guys in here every night saying things like that to......"


"I said you're beautiful Tracy," he interrupted. "I'm not talking about your body, I'm talking about your heart....your soul....you as a human being. You're beautiful."

I'm pretty sure my jaw was on the ground.
"Who are you?" I asked him. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. We were sitting face to face in a private show room in the middle of a trashy strip club and this guy was telling me that I had a beautiful heart. I started to laugh. As I shook my head, I looked up and caught his eyes. He was looking at me the way a mother looks at her newborn baby.

No one had told me that I was beautiful in a very, very long time. And no one had ever looked me in the eye and told me those things the way he did. The guys I knew in high school always checked out my body before coming close to looking at my face. Not him. His eyes never left mine.


"What.... what do you want from me?" I asked him hesitantly.


"I want to be your friend Tracy. I want you to know how precious you are. I want you to know that you're worth more than this. I want you to leave this place and never return."


"Whoa, whoa, whoa," I blurted out. "Now you're getting crazy. I can't leave this. I don't know what crazy, jacked up world you're from, but this is the real world and some of us gotta make money to survive."

He leaned in and smiled this big goofy-looking smile. "I thought you might say that Tracy. That's why I brought this." He picked up a scuffed and faded brown brief case and rested it on his knees.
"This is for you."


"What's in it?" I asked.


"I want you to take it, leave this room, go back into the changing room in the back, and open it. Do not show its contents to anyone." He stood up and placed the brief case by my chair.


"I don't understand! What am I supposed to...." I spun around but he was gone. I sat frozen for a moment, wondering if I'd just seen a ghost or if someone had slipped me a drug and I was trippin'. What is this? I wondered, as I looked the brief case over. I didn't waste time finding out. I grabbed the brief case and hurried to the back room of the club.

I locked the door behind me and sat down, pulling it onto my lap. Slowly I unlatched the locks on both ends and opened the lid. A fresh aroma hit my face as I stared at the contents. I blinked my eyes because I couldn't believe what I was looking at. Placed in neat stacks where hundreds, maybe thousands, even millions of $100 bills. There was a note resting on the stacks of money with these words-


"Tracy, you're not cheap, you're priceless. You're not an object, you're a woman who deserves respect and honor. You will find more money than the world can offer in this brief case. I've paid the highest price for you. You're worth that much. You belong to me. Go, and never return to this place. You're free from all of this. Live in my goodness. The choice is yours. I love you more than you can imagine. J"


My tears stained the paper as I read his words. That was the last night I stepped into Divas. It was the first night of my new life. The stranger changed my life forever.
And now I sit in the upstairs window of my bakery, day after day, watching the sunrise. As the warm rays flood my face, I'm reminded of that night two years ago. I smile when I think about it. I smile when I think of how deeply I'm loved and cared for by the stranger. He's no longer a stranger though. He's the lover of my soul. He's the giver of my life. He's my friend. He's the reason I feel alive when the sun hits my face.

I'm jealous for you.
 -2 Corinthians 11:2


...continue reading...

May 8, 2010

A Great Light Shines [jay]

(adapted from War of the Worlds by Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre)

30 October 1938: a cataclysmic event took place in the minds and imaginations of Americans. Civilization ended, humanity fell from the precipice upon which it had perched itself. The terror felt in the hearts and minds of Americans on this day was one imagined and set upon them by what should have been illogical and nonsensical, but it is amazing what can happen when that which should not happen magically does happen. Logic ceases to be logical, nonsense becomes normal and fear of what may become, becomes -- and hope that was lifeless is resurrected.


Orson: We know now that from its conception the world was being watched closely by an Intelligence greater than mankind's and yet incarnationally as mortal as his own. We know now that as human beings busied themselves about their various concerns they were scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacence people went to and fro over the earth about their little affairs, serene in the assurance of their dominion over this small spinning fragment of solar driftwood, which design man has inherited out of the dark mystery of Time and Space. Yet across an immense ethereal gulf, a Mind that is to our minds as ours are to the beasts in the jungle – an Intellect vast, deep and sympathetic -- regarded this earth with eyes and ears and slowly and surely drew His plans for us. In the tenth year of the twenty first century came the great disillusionment. [It was] near the beginning of April. Business was better. The war scare was over. More people were back at work. Sales were picking up. On this particular morning, April 4, the Crosley service estimated that 250 people were listening in on radios.


Announcer: (nasal and non-emotional, speaking quickly and clearly) Ladies and Gentlemen, the Corporate Broadcasting System has received reports regarding seismic activities up and down the Eastern seaboard. Apparently, tectonic plates have been shifting, causing disturbances in the earth’s crust that are visible even on its surface. This earth-shifting would typically be interpreted by the scientific community as simply an earthquake, but apparently, this is no ordinary earthquake.
To explain to us the observation of this strange spectacle, we go now to Philip Carl, professor of Geology at Princeton University, who is in the field in Hoboken, New Jersey at the Greenfield Memorial Cemetery.

Announcer: Thank you Dr Carl, for taking time out of your busy day to inform us.

Dr Carl: (upper middle class British accent – scholarly, calculated and calm in all things) My pleasure, sir.

Announcer: Dr Carl, please describe to us what you are seeing.

Dr Carl: Well sir, in twenty-nine years of geologic experience specializing in tectonics and earthquakes, I have never seen the likes of what has transpired before me. Typically in an earthquake, fault lines cause appearances in the earth’s surface that correspond to the fault line. The shifting of the tectonic plates under the earth’s crust make for a tearing, as it were, that with proper bird’s eye perspective would look like a long tear in a piece of fabric.
In this particular case though, sir, I am witnessing no such tear. Rather, the plates have shifted in such a way as to cause a patchwork of sorts in the ground before me. I stand at the edge of a dramatic 500 acre cemetery and the whole landscape before me is dotted with openings in the ground in seemingly totally random fashion. There most certainly was a shaking, I could feel the tremors at my office in Princeton. But the results of that shaking are phenomena the like of which I have not experienced in three decades of geology.

Announcer: Dr Carl, does that section of New Jersey experience much seismic activity?

Dr Carl: Actually, no. Hoboken has never experienced a tremor of great enough magnitude to even be classified an earthquake. It does not sit near a fault line of any kind. This is a truly unique occurrence. As I walk through this place, speaking to you on my mobile phone, I am observing small openings and large openings. Some as small as one grave, others as large as five to eight graves. Most are shallow, no more than six feet in depth. I can make out coffins, though for those coffins that were twisted, broken and/or opened by the quake, I strangely see no sarcophagus remains.

Announcer: Dr Carl, thank you for your summation.

Announcer: We now head to Eugene, Oregon for another astounding report from the scientific community. Dr Justin Wilmuth, head of psychology at University of Oregon Hospital has agreed to communicate with us regarding another strange happening on America’s west coast.

Announcer:
Greetings, Dr Wilmuth.

Dr Wilmuth: (deep booming voice, a highly capable and confident man, never easily shaken) Hello, sir.

Announcer: Dr Wilmuth, please tell us your experience of the last few hours.

Dr Wilmuth: Well, sir – hardly had I begun my morning rounds when I was overtaken by a patient -- a young woman -- shouting uncontrollably. Again and again she was screaming, “There is hope! There is hope! There is hope!.” Always three times, always almost hysterically. She would then pause, take a few breaths, look out the window and shout it again. It began to become infectious…patients all over the floor began meandering out of their rooms to see what was going on. She would simply scream at them, “There is hope! There is hope! There is hope!” and point at the window. Before I knew it, addicts, schizophrenics, manic depressives, recovering offenders…all were screaming, “There is hope! There is hope! There is hope!”

I was about to direct the staff to get as many restraints as possible and get to work with proper sedatives, when I saw my chief of staff staring out the window with her mouth open. She was beginning to drool.

Now sir, I hesitate to continue with my testimony, but for posterity’s and science’s sake, I must.

As I joined her at the window, my eyes were drawn the direction of her gaze. Just over the top of the city skyline, a golden crest was appearing. This crest is the brightest, most captivating thing I have ever seen. It should hurt my eyes to look at it, but it does not. Nor can I look away. The city beneath us has come to a full stop. People are walking and staring at the sky as if in a zombie-like state. Quiet has taken us over but for the random screams of hope. As I speak to you now, I have not moved from this window for over two hours nor averted my gaze from the crest.

Announcer: (suddenly concerned) Dr Wilmuth, sir, are you not in danger? The patients – are they not in need of your care?

Dr Wilmuth: Why sir, would they need my care? They have seen hope.

[the line goes dead]

Announcer: Dr Wilmuth…Dr Wilmuth… Sorry friends, it appears we have lost connection to our psychological expert, Dr Wilmuth, our contact in Eugene, Oregon at the University of Oregon Hospital. We will see if we can re-establish that connection at some point in the near future.

Announcer: Now, let’s return to the Greenfield Memorial Cemetery in Hoboken, New Jersey. Professor of Geology at Princeton, Dr Philip Carl, is on the scene there.

Announcer: Dr Carl, what is the latest?

Dr Carl: (puzzled and a bit distant) Well sir, I wish I had a good explanation of what it is I may tell you. Rather, I am beholden to simply give you the information.

Dr Carl: I have recently been joined by Dr Pierce Sun of the Stevens Institute of Technology here in Hoboken for a survey of the geological data regarding today’s earthquake. I make note of Dr Sun’s presence as a bit of credibility toward this data that I am about to relate.

Dr Carl: As Dr Sun and I were walking among the openings in the earth we began to note a pattern in the seemingly random fractures of the earth’s surface. Each place of opening was softly glowing from various points in its crater. At first, we agreed it was quartz in the earth’s crust that was playing with the morning light. Thing is, the more we continued to observe, the brighter the light became. We recognized that it was not random light; it was directed and piercing. This was not magma from an underground volcano or anything of the like. And now, as I speak to you, we are standing among beams of light streaming to the heavens from every hole in this cemetery. It is as though we are in a pincushion of the most brilliant, beautiful light I have ever seen. I am entranced by it. I feel both alive and dead at the same time, time is standing still and I find myself enraptured beyond words. My heart is on fire.

Announcer: (frantically) You are on fire, Dr Carl? Should you not leave the area? Get to a safer place?

Dr Carl: Leave, sir? Why would I ever want to leave? I am warmed and delighted to be here. Hopeful, even. Dr Sun has adopted a kneeling position in one of the openings under a sugar maple near to us. I believe I’ll join him…

[the line goes dead]

Announcer: (desperately) Dr Carl? Dr Carl?

Announcer: (beginning to feel the experience himself) My apologies, Ladies and Gentlemen, we appear to have lost Dr Carl to a state of ethereal worship. Strangely though, the Corporate Broadcasting System has begun to receive reports from all around the world regarding this strange quaking, often along lines in the earth that seem to have been previously undisturbed for centuries. From New Jersey to Brazil to France, people are witnessing beams of light streaming with great magnitude from random holes in the ground up to the heavens. Moscow, Beijing, Singapore, Melbourne and Honolulu all report the same brilliant crest in the sky that was testified to by Dr Wilmuth, capturing the attention of millions and millions, bringing traffic to a halt in major cities. Industrial sites, vacation resorts, office buildings, hospitals, churches, shopping centers – all have ground to a halt as people everywhere are enraptured and joyfully at peace with one another, observing the light from the sky and the light from the land as they meet together in the heavens.

Announcer: (back to business) To analyze the psychological response of humans everywhere, we return to Dr Wilmuth, head of psychology at the University of Oregon Hospital in Eugene, Oregon. Dr Wilmuth, can you hear me now?

Ms Welles: (soft-spoken and kind) Greetings, sir. This is Ms Welles, Dr Wilmuth’s chief of staff. I’m sorry sir, but Dr Wilmuth is unavailable at the moment.

Announcer: (wanting to sound impressive) Oh, I’m certain Ms Welles. Surely attending to all those patients and now everyone else who is psychologically struggling at this time must be taxing his efforts, and yours as well.

Ms Welles: Actually sir, we’re standing at the same window as before.

Announcer: You mean you’re with Dr Wilmuth?

Ms Welles: Yes, sir. But like I said, he’s unavailable.

Announcer: Understood, madam. But is he all right?

Ms Welles: Oh, yes sir. I am sure he’s never been better. He’s even beginning to drool.

[long pause]

Ms Welles: (as though the phone is away from her ear) What’s that, Dr Wilmuth? One more time… Once more…

Ms Welles: Sir, Dr Wilmuth is gently motioning for the phone. He’s begun to mutter something…I can’t make it out.

Announcer: (elated that someone finally wants to help him) Please, Ms Welles, if there is any way we can talk with Dr Wilmuth, we would so appreciate it.

Ms Welles: OK, I can put the phone up to his ear.

Announcer: (excitedly grateful) Thank you, Ms Welles. Dr Wilmuth, Dr Wilmuth…are you there Dr Wilmuth?

[even longer pause]

Announcer: (exasperated and frustrated) Drat! Have we lost our connection again?

Dr Wilmuth: (unintelligibly whisphering) tha…iz…ooh

Announcer: (business-like) I’m sorry Dr Wilmuth, our connection must be bad…what was that?

Dr Wilmuth: (still unintelligible and whispering) thar…izz…hoe

Announcer: (patiently prodding) One more time, please, Dr Wilmuth.

Dr Wilmuth: (muttering, whispering louder) thuer…iss…hoa

Dr Wilmuth: [increasing in understandability] Thar…i…hoe. Thare izs hop. There iz hoape.

Announcer: (frantically taking charge of the situation) Please, Dr Wilmuth, people everywhere are dying for an answer to what is happening out there. Please, please, please could you gather yourself and speak clearly what you are trying to say?

[long pause, breathing heavily and rapid]

Dr Wilmuth: (shouting as loud as possible) There is hope! There is hope! There is hope!


...continue reading...

May 7, 2010

Wind Chimes and Train Whistles [justin]

Wind chimes and train whistles dance
outside our new home. Morning
sun peers over the old, worn steel
factory to the East, light
returns from the West as it
jumps off the red brick across
the street. Illumination
fills our entryway – warm, not
piercing. The wandering light
extends the aura of dawn
past outsiders awareness.
The newly veiled stairs creek as
feet visit lightly. The house
is nearing a century,
though with us only around
a fortnight. Dressed up nice, but
with old bones and forgetful
sinews. Strong; falling apart,
degenerating; steadfast.
Who knows what lies underneath?

Taste and see, God our refuge.
Our South border is shared with
Catholics and paper saints
guarding the windows. To the
North, perceived pagans looking
for work, wanting more than here.
Our place is in between. It’s
where we belong. We are the
same as our neighbors; we are
different too. Everyone’s a
mystery; beauty and dark
colliding, screaming out for
liberation, but content
in complaint and restraint. Still,
who knows what lies underneath.

My Queen and Princess lie still
asleep next to each other.
A gap shown where I repose,
gone early with not nearly
enough dreams dreamt. Building and
tilling a house, a city,
a kingdom already-not-
yet come takes time and mind. But
what is the world without a
dwelling place home? My girls are
forever around, but not
a simple leaf, rather an
infinitely profound home
with endless caverns to dive
into and explore. Who knows
what lies underneath? The light
from the morning sky is with
them, radiant inside.
Rest is found in a Father’s
arms, a wives heart and eyes, and
a daughters golden state smile.


...continue reading...

Friend Request [hannah]

“Those guys are jerks. Just ignore them.”

Alex tried to ignore them. He nodded. “I know.”

“Seriously,” his friend Sara tried again. “They’re jackasses.”

Alex smiled. “Jackasses,” he muttered. He told himself he was strong enough to take it. It wasn’t the first time jackasses had called him that name. It probably wouldn’t be the last time. He looked over his shoulder at the huddle of frat boys. Two of them looked over. One whispered something while the others snickered.

Alex kept walking. They reached Sara’s dorm and said goodbye. Alex walked two buildings over to his own dorm and climbed the stairs. They’d just installed new grey rubbery flooring in the stairwell. It smelled like industrial strength adhesive.

He walked into his room and threw his book bag on the floor. He turned on his computer. He logged into Facebook. He waited for the top icons to tell him how many new notifications he had. He waited to see who cared.

No notifications.

Alex leaned back in his chair and stared at the profile on the screen. His own face smiled back at him. Under that a collection of tiny faces. All different. 437 friends.

437 friends and no notifications.

He got up and walked to his mini-fridge. He grabbed a bag of stale cookies off the top of it. He turned back to his computer, glancing at the empty bed on his way there. The bed was more than empty. It was naked. Just a mattress sitting on the plain bed frame. A reminder that his school-assigned roommate just couldn’t live with him anymore.

Alex ate a cookie.

He sat back at his computer and grabbed the mouse. He swirled the cursor over familiar names. There had to be someone he wanted to interact with. He pulled up a detailed list of his friends, but none of them looked interesting. He saw a link on the screen inviting him to find new friends, maybe from a list of his classmates. He clicked on a link to view students in his graduating class at Kent State.

He scrolled through faces and names. He scoured eight pages of people Facebook thought he should know.

On the ninth page Alex saw him. He didn’t know him, but his smile caught Alex’ attention. It wasn’t the normal college-guy smile-- that cocky, possibly drunk, macho smile. It was an open, vivacious smile that wasn’t even aimed at the camera capturing it. The smile was for someone standing outside of the camera’s range, or maybe the smile was meant for no one at all. It was just the uncontrollable act of someone who is genuinely happy.

The smile reached out of the screen and grabbed Alex. He couldn’t look away from it. He stared at it and heard laughter. Bright, true laughter. He wanted to laugh with whoever owned that smile.

Alex looked to the rest of the person in the picture. He had a great face. Not only the captivating smile, but lively blue eyes, a smooth jaw, and a square chin. Curly blond hair peeked out from beneath his ski cap. The name next to his picture was Jude Malone.

Jude.

It was interesting name. He must have interesting parents.

Alex looked back at Jude. He definitely had that all-American college dude look. He was probably in some frat house right now, intoxicating coeds with his smile and cheap beer.

But there was something about the smile. Something that didn’t fit the frat boy mold. Alex didn’t know why, but he believed the smile was never used to attract drunk girls.

Or maybe any girls at all.

Alex clicked on Jude’s name. The computer told him Jude went to Kent State and was born on August 31st. Alex couldn’t see anything else in the profile. He would have to become Jude’s friend to view more.

But he wasn’t Jude’s friend.

Alex stared at Jude, his mouse cursor hovering over his face. He had every intention of closing the window, but he stalled. And stared. And wondered if he would ever meet Jude Malone.



It was Sara’s idea to go to the club. Alex didn’t like clubs. At least not the kinds of clubs Sara wanted to go to. Somehow she dragged him to one almost every Thursday night. A few more girls would go with them. Sometimes the two chubby girls who lived next door to Sara. Sometimes Sara’s roommate. Alex and Sara always went though. They were a team. Sara manipulated Alex into having fun, and Alex made sure Sara didn’t get scooped up by some creepy thirty year-old townie when she got too drunk to know any better.

Tonight it was just Alex and Sara. The club was dark and dirty, and filled with sweaty people. Sara tossed herself around to the music. She danced on Alex as if it was possible for him to be attracted to her. He moved his body along with hers. She must have been sneaking drinks from old guys again. She didn’t even notice that Alex was distracted. He looked away from her and over the heads of all of the writhing college students.

He didn’t mean to be searching for him. He knew that at a school that size, it was highly unlikely that Jude Malone would be at the same club on the same night. Alex told himself he wasn’t looking for him. Still he watched the crowd. His eyes narrowed every time they fell on blond curly hair.



Sara eventually sweated out all her energy and collapsed into Alex. He dragged her back to campus and dropped her at her dorm. He went back to his room. He sank into his desk chair and opened his computer. The bright screen burned his eyes. He pulled up Facebook. He clicked. One. Two. Three. Four clicks of his mouse. He’d memorized the fastest way to get to Jude.

He sighed and his eyelids sagged.

One more click.

He sent Jude a friend request.



Alex held the last of his poptart in his teeth while he zipped up his book bag and threw it over his shoulder. He started to leave the room, but stopped and went back to his desk one last time. He woke up his sleeping computer. He opened Facebook.

No notifications.

Jude did not want to be his friend today.

Just as he hadn’t for the past eleven days. Alex’ friend request was pending. Always pending.

He went to class.

He didn’t live far from his classroom, but he rode the bus. He sat and looked out a dusty bus window for seven minutes. He watched faces. He knew a lot of them. Not by name. He just saw them every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday as he took the same bus through the same part of campus at the same time.

His stomach twisted. He wrapped his arms around his waist.

The same faces. Over and over again. Never the face he wanted to find.

He saw his stop approaching on the right. The bus pulled over. Students put away their iPods and climbed off the bus. But Alex didn’t move.

He sat. He needed more faces. New faces.

Different students took the empty seats of those who’d left, and the bus groaned back into the street. Alex watched the sidewalks slip past the bus. He knew Jude was out there. Somewhere. In a dorm, or a classroom, or a booth at Taco Bell. He was somewhere in this tiny college town. And Alex had to find him.



Alex lay on his bed and stared at the ceiling. Sara called. He didn’t answer his phone. He didn’t move. Seventeen days, and Jude still hadn’t accepted his friend request. He was too good for Alex. He didn’t want to get to know Alex. He didn’t want to be Alex’ friend.

Sara called again.

Then texted Alex when he didn’t answer his phone.

Come on loser! I want 2 go out 2nite!

Alex threw his phone at his computer.



I log in to Facebook. I have a friend request. I frown at the screen.

I don’t get friend requests. This isn’t even a legitimate Facebook account. It’s just a joke account that I made for a fictional character to make my sisters laugh. I look to see who the friend request is from.

Alex Wright.

I don’t know anyone named Alex Wright. And there’s no way he knows who Jude Malone is. Jude is just a character in the unpublished novel I wrote.

I shrug. I hope this Alex kid doesn’t notice that Jude declined his request.


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