April 30, 2010

Untitled [jana]

“Pay Attention” they command,
and the experience of generations
insists that I submit and discipline
and practice solitude and silence.

Like piano scales the minutes rattle by,
jarring empty space a song could fill.
This silent train wanders
loud as the whisper of my own heartbeat,
And I wander inside, looking for the quiet room with the window.

I don’t know what I’m looking for,
perhaps the focus of a child at play
A mindful state of the heart

...continue reading...

Condolence [olivia]

I caught your grief like the flu
But I’m just a poser
‘Cause tomorrow I will taste again.
I’ll run the dishwasher without sinking to the floor and staring.
I’ll laugh without remorse.
I’ll look the cashier straight in the eye.

I caught your grief like the flu
And the symptoms came on suddenly.
The smell of Stargazers, a punch to the gut
Those damned sentries flanking a little white coffin.
Smelling of sugar and death.
Of overexposure and loneliness.

I caught your grief like the flu
Guess I’m glad I’m not immune.
The old tape still works.
I blow off the dust and pop it in one more time.
Images grainy, but familiar.
He was real. Beautiful. Beloved.


...continue reading...

April 27, 2010

Coming Home: To Hope [vanessa]

I've always dreamt of being married.

~Gum Drop Wishes~

"One fish, two fish, red fish, blue..." I heard the door snap shut. I dropped my book to the floor, scrambled off my bed, and ran straight into the living room. I stopped at the glass door. Tears began streaming down my face as I stared at the empty parking space along the curb. The cloud of exhaust was quickly being carried away by the breeze. I smashed my cheek against the warm glass, hoping that I could see his truck before he turned off our street. I looked down and saw the plastic badge with his picture on it lying on the mat. He must have dropped it as he walked out the door. My tiny six-year old fingers clung to his badge as if it was all I had left of him. He had left for work without saying goodbye.

My mom gently led me to his big blue chair and held me on her lap. Once the pace of my tears slowed enough for me to formulate intelligible words, I told my mom that I wanted to marry my dad. I can still remember my heart crushing downward into my chest when I learned that my mom was already married to my dad and that little girls can't marry their daddy.

~Star-Crossed Lovers~

As we sat in his mom's maroon van in the empty school parking lot, I knew the end was coming. I sobbed, slowly embracing the idea that when I would wake up in the morning he wouldn't call. He wouldn't come pick me up. There would be no more late night movies where I would peacefully fall asleep, at rest in the security of his presence. I sat in the passenger seat, weeping, and clinging to the moment for as long as I could. He stared at me, his eyes moist. I wondered if his tears were because of his pain, my pain, or some sort of hybrid pain. In my desperation, I prayed - finally realizing that the only person able to do anything in this situation was God. I was powerless and everything was out of my control Silence filled the van like a wave crashing over our bodies, leaving both of us paralyzed.

As my mind reels back over ten years, I can't even remember the words I uttered to God, but I can assure you He did not answer my prayer in the way I felt He should have. In that moment my heart changed. I resolved I would never again be hurt in this way. God simply could not be trusted - He had betrayed me. Whatever life existed in my heart that day was put to death.

~The Awakening~

The humidity had wafted away with the sunset, only the lingering summer warmth remained. My skin was sticky, covered by a thin layer of sweat. The sky was clear and I scanned the constellations for Orion's Belt. The moonlight gleaned through the silhouettes of the trees lined along the fence. My feet began hitting the rubber track as fast as my legs would carry me. I was alone. Suddenly, a voice call out from within the darkness, "Why are you running from me?" The moment was surreal, but I wasn't scared. I simply responded with "I don't know." He gently told me to stop. I suppose I was more tired than I thought I was because I gave up without a fight. That moment changed everything.

Every time I gaze at the night sky - regardless of where I am in the world - I always look for Orion's Belt. There's something comforting in its constancy. Realizing that I no longer needed to run, I slowly walked home under the gaze of the full moon and the steadfastness of Orion's Belt. I felt as though I had been awakened from a deep sleep - like I had been brought back from the grave. Hope had reached into the depth of my death and called out the shred of life that was buried under layer upon layer of solid rock. In the moment where I most needed to be rescued, Hope arrived.

~The Valley of Achor~

He lingered in the office as I worked. It was painfully obvious that he had something to say to me, but I waited for him to speak. As I sat down on the couch, I could feel the words that were about to come out of his mouth. "We're not ever going to be more than friends...." A million thoughts raced through my mind - but in the end no words were necessary. Thankfully, he left before the tears began to trickle down my cheeks. He had already seen enough of my tears.

This situation was all too familiar. This was the pain that I had experienced time and time again and had unsuccessfully attempted to shield myself from since I was six years old. Once again, I was powerless and everything was out of my control. Yet, this turn on the spiral yielded an unexpected response. Rather than rejection, I felt an invitation being extended to me. My sorrow became like sweet manna - reminding me of what once was and of what is possible. While the pain was familiar and piercing, the soil of my heart that had been tilled for so many years was able to continue to receive. To continue to give life...even while dying.

My life is not what I imagined it would be.

I still dream of being swept away into a fairy tale. I frequently envision carting a van full of children around. My desires haven't changed. In fact, they are stronger and deeper than I ever believed possible. With this comes pain, grief, sorrow, longing, and aching. Some days, I lay my courage down and seek solace in peanut butter cups, work, cleaning, or any other distractionary activity. Yet, when I choose to accept the invitation to enter into these rooms of despair, I find that that they actually become birthing rooms of passion, laughter, joy, peace, and - most of all - hope. Hope, not in the fulfillment of my desires, but in the One who placed desire in my heart in the first place. Hope in the One who knows my heart and is the only One able to grant its deepest longings. Hope in the knowledge that all of my desires are only glimpses of the glory that awaits.

At times, I would like to live in the delusion that the aches and longings of my heart will eventually fade away. That at some point on this earth, I will cease groaning with creation
for redemption. But even when I attempt to run or hide and my waywardness consumes me, Hope continues to call me home and invites me to journey deeper - again and again.

Oh I do believe
In all the things you see
What comes is better than what came before

And you'd better come come, come come to me
Better come come, come come to me
Better run, run run, run run to me
Better come
~Cat Power

...continue reading...

What I Did On My Summer Vacation, Part 1 [annie o]

The Beach

The goat bleating woke me up again—a most reliable alarm clock. But I was ten and on summer vacation; I had no need for such certainty. Eventually the goat would be silenced, simply disappear in the night, somewhere during the beating of drums. The goat was tied up on the witch doctor’s compound a few feet outside my window. A wall and hedge stood between indicated where my safe place ended and the witch doctor’s place began.

I opened my eyes to the bright sunlight and glared through the overwhelming whiteness to my sister’s bed. She too was awake, lying stiffly on top of her covers. Her sandals were strapped firmly to her feet, scuffing the bed. Seeing them, I remembered the hand-sized spiders that had scared her into wearing shoes to bed and tried not to think about their large legs. Shoes were not much of a defense against banana spiders: you couldn’t fit one under your foot.

As we lay, trying to ignore the goat’s eager bleats, the ceiling fan began to spin. Even though the windows were open, the covers piled to the end of my bed, I was eager to feel the coolness peel the stagnant air from my skin. We were on a missionary compound that shared a generator with the hospital the across the street. It was turned off during the night. When the sun went down, we would light kerosene lamps, like the miniature toys I’d seen in the American Girl catalogue. For a moment before I went to bed each night, I was a patriot in 1774, not a schoolgirl in 1996.

Most days my sister and I would eat breakfast and trudge to the children’s hospital to have non-conversations with non-playmates who were riddled with tuberculosis. Their medication required refrigeration, which required electricity, which was sparse. Parents left their children here for the six-month treatment. Although some were developmentally disabled, or malnourished, and were not left to be treated for tuberculosis.

But today we had been promised a trip to the beach. A mile or more down the road was the Caribbean Sea, splashing its exotic turquoise waves against the white sand shore. The only evidence that the ocean was nearby was the salty smelling breeze. I would wake up too hot in the middle of the night and pray for a strong gust to bring goose bumps to my sticky skin.

When we left for the beach I plodded toward the compound gate with heavy sandals through the itchy grass. We were a large group, my siblings, the missionaries’ kids, one of the missionaries and my mom. Outside the red, paint-chipped gate we turned left and headed down the dirt road. Chickens bocked alongside us, poking the ground hungrily. Palm trees wiggled their fronds in a light breeze that did little to shake the oven-hot swelter; it pursued my skin with avarice but I was too young be embarrassed by my sweat.

In the distance a donkey brayed, hee-hawing violently: I had started calling them asthmatic car horns. It was not the polite Sunday School noise that paper-bag-puppets had made earlier in my youth. The donkeys steered clacking wooden carts, dodging the too-dry summer ravines that had cracked the hard dirt surface of the roads. In a few months hurricanes would come and feed the plants and ravish the land.

On the sides of the road, men worked making coal. The coal pits emanated an aching scent; pungent like wet bark, sour and strong. Workers watched as we walked by, their black eyes watching our white faces bounce merrily down the way.

The other side of the road boasted multilevel, cement houses; the most extravagant structures I’d seen in weeks. The houses were incomplete with cement walls missing. Their floor plans—winding staircases, separated rooms—were bared to the world. Such features made them stunning. The stark grey walls-floors-ceiling, all identical and dusty, looked cold to touch and inviting. A spacious shady place.

“Drug dealers,” the resident missionary said. “They’re the only people around here who have enough money for houses like that. Or they sell stuff on the black market in Miami.”

Farther down the road was a graveyard. Bright cement towers, crumbling and nameless, spattered the grassy field. Like the houses, these graves had missing walls exposing black caverns inside. Other walls were covered, indicating their occupancy.

“Families rent the graves for about three years, and then they move the remains elsewhere. They have to cement them in, otherwise the witch doctors will steal the remains”

I imagined large cauldrons bubbling, sucking the human bones and sinew into their demon conjuring stews. I stared at the empty graves as my feet continued to plod against the road.

We neared the beach, and the breeze grew stronger, cooling my forehead, peeling the flyaways from my hairline, wrapping its cool fingers around me in a refreshing hug. To the right a row of palm trees provided shade for the livestock in the fenceless field. Each goat or cow, sinewy and skeletal, stood still with a rope tied around its neck. Each had spent the first few years of life tied to a fence, and no longer believed they could wander if they could feel the splintered rope around their neck.

The road finally opened to a brown beach, sloping toward the water. On the left a carpenter sawed a thick stake by hand, standing in the shade of a large wooden boat.

I walked to where the water splashed and whispered its waves against the shore. Each lap was brown and cloudy.

“Let’s go around the point. The water’s cleaner over there.” The missionary directed us.

I proceeded down the beach. The sand wasn’t white the way I had pictured the Caribbean. And the water was no turquoise. My friends would never know, though. When I explained to them where Haiti was, I could say ‘the Caribbean’ and let their minds fill it in with the same set of pictures I mine had.

“There’s a lot of history here. This straight you’re looking at is where Columbus sailed on his first trip to the new world. That’s why the island is called Hispañola.”

I looked at the blue expanse that swayed and swelled before me, imagining giant wooden ships like the carpenter’s behind me, tall sails full of wind flapping loudly, propelling the ship off the edge of its map. 1492. Niña, Pinta, Santa Maria. That was something to impress my friends with.

“And that island across the way…” I looked up, “… is called La Tortugue. It used to be a pirating island. Pirates would meet and trade there.” Pirates were also impressive.

We finally arrived at bluer waters, safe for swimming. The sand was still brown, the water still dark. Had there been no beating heat or palm trees, it could have been the Pacific Coast at Ocean Shores, Washington. If there hadn’t been the slight waves, minimized from standard ocean height by La Tortugue across the way, it could have been Lake Coeur d’Alene.

I stripped to my swimsuit beneath my clothes and approached the water with trepid steps, uncertain what floated beneath the surface. But the water finally reached my toes and the rest of me was eager to share in its cool respite.

...continue reading...

April 23, 2010

Tuesday Afternoon [kris]

Cool water envelopes my naked toes as I sink my foot into the puddle on the cracked and slanted sidewalk square in front of my building. Shifting my weight onto one leg I slowly slide my foot vertically out of the puddle, watching the water change shape. The last drips drop off the tip of my big toe. Ripples rest, and the surface of the water is still again.

Standing straight I look ahead. The street stretches out from where I stand. Streetlights, store fronts, city dwellers, a few cars wrapping up the back end of evening traffic—Magnolia street unfolds into the horizon like a freshly thrown tablecloth. Gaze fixed, I squint to let the hard angles and edges become soft silhouettes. Familiar forms become horizontal layers of soft grey, lavender, and periwinkle. Higher up I find dreamsicle orange and lemon chiffon, topped with spoonfuls of delicate meringue. There is moisture underneath my tongue and for a moment I believe I’ve really succeeded in tasting the sky. I can smell it too. A light and sweet aroma. Warm. Smooth and cool, tart and sweet, intermittently across the landscape of my senses. Eyes fully open again, I step over the puddle and suddenly the sky is close to me. I reach up and glide my right hand through the soft meringue and it billows like fresh snow, then becomes liquid and rolls in vertical droplets down in front of me like the watery paint I’ve pulled across canvas so many times. The little drops of liquid sky roll slowly over the top of my hand. The touch of each droplet is cool and light. As they traverse my skin the follicles they touch tingle and hairs stand on end. I turn my palm up, and the droplets slowly roll across the inside of my wrist and begin their freefall toward the ground, settling and forming a tiny new puddle.

Out of the corner of my eye I notice a shimmer and my gaze is drawn to the right. The layered bricks of burnt and raw sienna that lead to my apartment window are aglow. The hard concrete has become warm. It’s still solid, but when I reach out and lay my palm flat against it the feel reminds me of a pillowcase against my cheek. I trace the crevices between the bricks, where mortar once was. They’ve become like silk scarves wrapped between my fingers.

I begin to jog, and quickly find the rhythm-- no ipod needed. I sense a melody somewhere underneath the concrete. Playful notes that dance over audio peaks and valleys without resolve. Time passes and I realize that my footfalls are no longer collisions against concrete; my steps are both anticipated and received. Soon I notice that the colors are shifting. Meringue and lemon have moved slowly over me. Grey and lavender lift to reveal deep violet and warm indigo, accented by a dusting of silver. In the subtle approach of dusk the sweetness of the air prevails, bidding me to slow my pace. I’ve run far enough outside the city to be surrounded by trees instead of buildings. Solid browns and lush greens. Trunks strong and safe. I linger, surveying the trees, and am drawn to a willow close by, the tallest tree I see. Underneath his lanky branches, I sit between exposed roots. With my cheek against the tree’s chest, I listen. Pressed against the tree I sink into the melody beneath the grass. Peaks and valleys cease to a soft tune in a lower key. Soon, held by the land, I will sleep. Knowing she remembered.

...continue reading...

Rubble [liz]

On every other corner
A man with money pays a man with less
To do his chore, his stress
The one with less might gain a little
But he lost his home, his place of rest

We build for glory and destroy because we can
Power made secure by metal and stone
Structures built in a day, shake and fall
All our toil leads to rubble
By our hands or the force of the clay
Surrounded by rubble

Must I journey or may I be still
Not live for the building, just within the walls
Not swing and break and bring to rubble
But stand on the soil, and thank God for each breath

...continue reading...

April 20, 2010

Knock Knock [kory]

I stand in fear

You just don’t know

Don’t push that button

It raises the veil

His grace is sufficient

It protects you today

My pain will be your pain if you don’t walk away

Warring undercurrent floods this occasion

I no longer hear you

I am fighting temptation

I know I should hold on

The belt will go back on

Blows tear open my soul

You should start running now.

...continue reading...

Letters to a Three-Year-Old, Part 1 [annie m]

My Dearest Baby Boy,

I don't know what happened. I don't know what has changed. Your birth changed my entire heart. I never knew love like that existed before you. When I looked at you, I knew I was looking at my own heart. I wanted the rest of the world to disappear so that it would just be you and me. What happened? Why can't I stand you now? I know I still love you! I know you are still as important to me, but I don't want you around. I hide from you in the computer. I park you in front of the tv so that I can do what I want to do. I used to miss you when I was away from you for a couple hours - now, no amount of time is enough. You are so hyper and loud. You want my attention all the time. You're so insistent and frustrating. I want to be there for you, but I feel like you're sucking the life out of me. I yell at you all the time. I glare at you. I want to hit you. My dream with the lady hitting her child broke my heart, but that's me; and that's you. I hit you with my words and my angry glances. I shut you out and leave you alone. I see the looks you give me - sometimes so full of frustrated anger and sometimes so hurt and bewildered. It's like you're afraid of me - and you have every right to be. One minute, I'm smiling at you and the next, I'm screaming. Your eyes are so beautiful and expressive - I hate the me I see in them. I want to be friends again. I want us to play in the world that's just ours. So often, I kick you out or walk away. I see you alone and I want to be with you. I love you, my little man.


I love you, too, mr mommy

I want to be with you all the time. I love hugging you and being held. Do you remember when I was sitting on one couch and you were sitting on the other and I was on the other and I got up to come sit with you? I miss you, too. It seems like you don't want to be with me. Why are the dishes so important? Why are you always talking to other people and not to me? Why do you want to look at boring stuff on the computer instead of playing with me? The only time you see me is when I yell or make Emma scream. You say, "Maybe later." When? When are you going to play with me? When are you going to have time for me? When are you going to see me? We used to be friends. We used to share secrets and enjoy things together. Now you want to be with everyone else. I try to be funny for you and you smile politely at me or tell me to be quiet. I accidentally spill something and you make me feel like I'm so stupid. Do you hate me? You spill, too, sometimes! How do I get you to see me again? How do I get us to be friends? What do I have to do to get you to like me? I love it when we play together. I love it when we talk about things. I want to be friends again.

...continue reading...

April 16, 2010

I Am Flesh [jessie b]

The Fruit

I look so fine in my shiny, supple skin.
My color is hot, you will be taken.

Come here, smell the scent of my green branches, Come!
Into my world, my adventure, my flesh.

Soft, juicy, slimy, seedy, handle with care!
Be gentle when you break me off the vine.

Hold me gently; softly press your lips on me.
I am yours, your ripened fruit, flesh.

The Woman

Looking down at my hands, I stared at the fruit freshly plucked from the branch. Did I really take this forbidden object away from its home?

The fruit was cool in my hands and I found myself rubbing its smooth skin. I bet it is juicy and sweet. I could almost hear it being crunched by my teeth; I could almost feel its texture on my tongue. I wanted it, but God had said…

How long had I been here? How long had the questions been running through my head? How long had this fruit been laying in my hands, begging to be bitten?

I rolled it across my hands. I felt it move across my left hand, and then fall into my right, settling itself in my palm. How easy it would be to eat it now. All I needed to do was raise my hand, open my mouth, and bite down.

The shiny surface of the fruit mirrored Adam’s reflection as he snuck up behind me, resting his head on my shoulder, eagerly looking at the object of my attention. I sighed.

Adam and I stared at each other for a moment. My life was full and lacked no pleasure as I walked through this garden each day with God and Adam. All I saw was mine to take. I had enjoyed it all. God had given us everything. There was no need to question or doubt if this was as good as things could possibly get. God had told us that this was it, and then He had given it to us. Or had He?

I closed my eyes blocking out Adam, blocking out God. I needed to remember what happened. I needed to think things through What should I do with this object in my hand?

God. God. I needed to think about what God said. He said I couldn’t eat from this one tree. I don’t even think I was supposed to touch it. I touched it. God, I touched it and I’m not dead. Didn’t You say that I would die?

It looked good. It sounded good. Knowledge. It would make me like God. It felt good in my hands. Nothing seemed wrong with it. Really, how was it bad?
There was no way it could be bad. Why did God lie?

Why did God lie and tell us that this one tree would kill us?

Would it really just make everything better? Could I be as good as God?

Opening my eyes, I looked down at my shoulder where Adam rested, nearly asleep. I looked back at the fruit. Closer, and closer, my mouth finally met its target and I bit, sinking my teeth into its flesh. Flesh.

The Fight

Let us think about flesh. The flesh of the fruit varies. If the fruit were an apple, it would be crunchy, sweet, and generally well-liked. Apple pie, applesauce, apple cider, apple juice, apple slices, apple-off-the-tree. We like it so many ways, and appreciate its versatility. It’s easy to imagine the fruit of the Tree as an apple, but what if the fruit were different? What if it was a fruit that made you wonder, and made you question everything?

Tomatoes, as fruit, provide my taste buds with more questions than answers. Every time I bite into a tomato, I hope for less of the slimy, seedy center. I hope for sweetness, and for understanding that this is, indeed, a fruit. If I were a tomato, I’d be embarrassed by my unusual flesh. I would long to have the true sweetness of a strawberry. Shame would be inevitable. I am less than desirable. My texture makes men gag. My flavor is unusual. I am less than the other fruit. I will never be enough.

I’ve always been acutely aware of my flesh, my physical body, and to be perfectly honest, I see myself as a tomato. I see Woman as a tomato, and I am Woman. There are parts of me that stir up desire and are held in great expectation, but those same parts are a bit slimy and not nearly as sweet as hoped. As I think through God, man, woman, and the Tree, I have many feelings, many thoughts, many questions, but mostly I have shame.

I wonder why woman was tempted with the flesh of the Tree? What did the woman feel as she stood by the Tree? Why was the Tree so central to the world God gave her? Where was her mate? Did she think about God? Why did God have to make me a woman? Why am I tempted – to see flesh, to feel flesh, to doubt, to isolate, to choose pain, to sabotage, to hide myself?
I wonder about how I choose things – how I choose God and I don’t choose God, how I choose my husband and I don’t choose my husband, how I choose the hunger of my stomach over the hunger of my heart. I struggle with fear; I doubt that I am loved. Why do I doubt my husband’s heart? And how, how can I doubt my God’s heart? There are some things I don’t ever wonder about. I don’t ever wonder about being a woman; I know I am irreversibly so. I don’t worry about my flesh. I don’t ever worry about shame. I know them well enough, and I embrace them again and again. I am Woman, I am Flesh, and I am Ashamed.

...continue reading...

The Onion Snow [judd]

I turn over the first chocolate chunk of soil with my garden spade. It is beautiful, rich, and pungent, smooth and shiny on its underside. Later, when I plant the whole garden, early May, I’ll fetch the neighbor’s Roto-tiller, the neighbor who is too old to use his many machines but not too old to plant tomatoes. I’ll till his garden while I’m at it.

But it’s only the shovel for my onion bed. I want to turn the soil by hand, loosen it deep, give the bulbs unconfined soil in which to grow big. I want to smell the dirt not exhaust. I want to see every worm and grub as I break up the clumps and worked in the compost that has been cooking all winter.

It’s a temperate day for March and I know it won’t last. March fair weather doesn’t and shouldn’t. Without some coolness in March, the warmth of April seems like a repeated compliment, nice but not fresh and unexpected and sincere.

The last trace of snow melted three weeks ago. The ground is moist but workable. My spade does its job. Where I have not dug, the ground is packed down by winter, almost gray, flat and hard, futureless. But in my churning I leave a wake of upheaval and promise. When I get my rake after it, the ground will look orderly. It will carry my mark.

I don’t need a big area for my onions but it’s hard to stop digging. The repetition is addictive. It strengthens my belief in the myth that life as an assembly line worker would be less stressful than mine.

Interruption. She brings the phone to me and I notice that she’s getting bigger. Her hooded sweatshirt strains and stretches at the zipper.

“It’s your mother,” she says extending the handset toward me.

“I’m filthy. Tell her I’ll call her back,” I say.

“Did you hear that?” she repeats into the phone. She listens and then laughs.

“She said to call her as soon as you’re done playing in the sandbox,” my wife tells me.
I continue my digging. My father had his sandbox too. ‘A man needs a place to get away,’ he said to me many times before he went away, far too young.

She’s back.

“I think it’s getting colder,” she says. “How much longer are you gonna be out here?”

“I just want to get my onions in,” I reply. “Another half-hour or so.”

The sky darkens, the warm sun from earlier now hidden by clouds, replaced by a chilling north wind. It has all changed so quickly.

“Where’s Jeff and Lisa?” I ask.

“Jeff’s over at Mike’s house and Lisa’s inside watching a video.”


As she walks away I see that the growth is not just confined to her stomach.

I go back to my digging. Can anything break my concentration on this one task? I treasure every shovel-full. It’s so simple. Every time is the same. The result is predictable, immediate, and useful. No one tells me how to do it. I could dig with the shovel’s handle if I wanted to.

The temperature has dropped nearly 10 degrees in one hour. A dark bank of clouds appears over the crest of the hills to the northwest.

The wind picks up and the onion skins inside the mesh bag begin to rattle. Leaves left over from last fall, once held captive by snow banks, skitter down the alley, free.

The sweat from my digging cools and evaporates under my sweatshirt. I look up at the coming front and shiver so slightly.

I clear the 4’x4’ bed, raking mounds of dirt to each side, and scatter the onion bulbs haphazardly. They didn’t need to be in rows. I will thin them out, harvest many of them for spring onions. The rest will find their way into vegetable juice and onto late summer burgers or will be tied into bunches to dry in the shed.

As the wind increases, a rain starts. No good digging up wet ground and I’m glad the onions are in. I wanted to plant the spinach as well, but that will have to wait, and wait it will. Like so many things, in its time, in its time. If only we let things move at the pace they wish, how much less resistance we have in our lives. What happens happens and so we find out how little influence we really have. But that philosophy only works in a one-man garden.

The shovel is caked with the moist dirt, so I find a rock, a good-sized one with a sharp end and enough size for me to hold onto. I scrape the steel blade until almost all the dirt is back in the garden. It falls in little chunks.

Inside, she’s waiting, watching me out the back window. She was cold and so she has brewed a pot of coffee. Decaffeinated, fine for me this late afternoon. She doesn’t take in caffeine, not now with Johnny-Come-Lately inside her. She’ll wait until he has arrived, and then she’ll return to regular coffee, and a beer now and then, and occasionally something stronger when the girls go out and she calls me from downtown and tells me she’s spending the night at Chelsey’s and I go to sleep alone.

“This blew in fast, didn’t it?” she says.

“Yeah, that’s March for ya,” I reply, getting a cup and pouring some coffee. Inside me my thirst is more for water but my fingers are cold now from holding the rock and scraping my shovel. I hold the cup with both hands, look out the window as the temperature continues to drop, the wind steady, and a light rain going from left to right, west to east, falling at a 45-degree angle, making Isosceles triangles with the yard and the laundry-line posts that stand along the back walk leading to my now empty garden.

We stand there for minutes, her just inches from me. Now that her tummy protrudes, she sometimes forgets where it is. She bumps into things and she is not normally a bumper but a smooth and agile evader. Her left hand unconsciously strokes the side of her tummy as her right hand holds the mug and slowly lifts it to her mouth, sipping slowly, never in quick repetition as I do.

“Hot beverages are to be sipped slowly,” she has said many times to me as she expounds on her life rulebook, the one she continues to write, edit and change as we go through our marriage.

“I don’t know how you drink your coffee so fast,” she says this time.

I say nothing. There is nothing to say. I have told her time and again that is the way it is, and I will change many things for you but please let me have my coffee the way I like it (black) and at the speed I like it.

As she sips, her lips purse and lines form in her skin. I have only begun to notice recently that her face is showing the wear from too much tanning. It looks healthy in the summer, but in the winter, when the brown is gone, she is just left with faded leather. She has the belly of a 25 year old but the face of the 40 year old she is.

When she was pregnant with Jeff she was 25. I look at photos now of her baby shower and she looks like a baby herself. She won’t let me photograph her this time.
The rain is different now. The drops have grown in size and I realize it is turning to snow. Just that quickly.

“This won’t amount to anything,” she says.

I say, “Never does in March.”

She finds the one exception to my statement. “Remember the March blizzard of ’93?” she comes back.

Yes, I do, but I won’t bother saying it.

We watch a while longer. The rain stops. But the wind remains and dark clouds move by to the north.

“I’m going to shower,” I say finally.

“What do you want for dinner?”

“Let’s just go to the diner.”


Upstairs, I take off my dirty jeans and put them in the wash. I shave – my one weekend shave – and shower. My fingernails are still a little dirty when I’m done, but I like that. My grandfather the farmer never had completely clean hands. I used to look at them as he ate a sandwich and marvel at how gnarled and scarred they were. His left pinky was half its original length. I used to sit next to him in church and dare myself to touch it.

I look at my hands. Beyond the dirty fingernails, the rest of my hands are soft, almost dainty. The only callus I have is on the middle finger of my right hand, from my pen.

I dress. Clean jeans, Penn State sweatshirt, good sneakers. Diner-wear.

As I come downstairs, I look out the window for the first time since stepping into the bathroom. The rain has fully turned to a snow. Huge flakes look like white Wheaties. The grass is covered, snow clinging to the blades that had just started to turn green. The streets and sidewalks, though, are just wet. Even the bare ground of the flower beds and gardens do not play host to the snow flakes, melting them on contact.

“The Onion Snow,” I say to myself but loud enough that Lisa hears it above the din of her video.


“I said, ‘It’s an onion snow.’”

“Why do they call it that?”

“Because it comes late, about the time you’re planting your onions and it’s supposed to help the onions grow.” It comes about the time when you think there will be no more snow. Just when you think you have it all figured out and you can do what you want with your garden.

...continue reading...

April 13, 2010

One [rachel]

From inside my car, I could tell only that the night was black, not that it was also blustery. I parked, stepped outside, and knew the coolness. My car was just two blocks off the busy street, and I had come to this point in Mt. Washington from an English department reception full of friends and food. I wanted to be alone. I wanted quiet moments with God. And I wanted them not safely in my house but here in the dark and the wind where I felt just unsafe enough to feel even a small sense of both fear and awe.

I hurried up the street on foot, crossed the main road, and half-walked, half-jogged to the railing that lines McArdle Road. McArdle is hard to drive. It scales the side of a bluff, rising high above the Monongahela River on its southern shore. The road is straight until it makes a hairpin curve away from the water at the very crest of the hill. The ascent, though, is made most treacherous by its beauty. One look to the right and I have to consciously turn my eyes back to the pavement, the guard rail, the oncoming traffic. Just across the river the Golden Triangle, Pittsburgh’s downtown, glows in its nighttime finery. A million tiny lights, the illuminated water of the Point’s fountain, the constant motion of headlights and boat lights . . . yellow, green, red, blue, purple. A visual feast.

I gripped the railing, looking down the sheer side of the bluff feeling my body sway ever so slightly with the mere suggestion of falling. I was safe, occupying the same space of sidewalk that thousands of others traverse gazing at the panorama of Pittsburgh from such a perfect vantage point. But the wind rushing up and around me, the darkness of the night, and the presence of One drew me intently into a feeling of dangerous delight. The charcoal grey clouds over Pittsburgh’s tallest buildings rolled, forming and reforming into massive shapes. Their undersides glowed, the slate sky behind them looking angry, flat, and distant. The heavens were upside down, the stars glowing from the manmade splendor of city beneath what looked like a churning ocean of stormy grey undercurrents. I felt the spray of the sky-waves on my bare arms and neck.

Some part of me wanted to leave, to rush back to my car and drive home where I could lock myself safely away from the night, from the dangerous sky and wind, from the One capable of making them. But I remained for minutes, long awe-full minutes wondering about the God, my God, who could draw me so intensely to His side in the midst of tumultuous beauty. I thought I would stand there captivated by lights, sounds, the vastness of urban constructions. Instead, my eyes locked on the ever-moving expanse above, my skin responding to the soft, strong buffet of the wind.

Not long after I returned to my car, friends called me on the phone. They thought they’d seen me standing by the railing on McArdle. “Are you in trouble? Do you need our help?” Somehow they sensed the danger though they thought it was perhaps because of a broken-down car. I told them I was fine, on my way back home. I just wanted to feel the air, see the city. They know how I love heights. I didn’t tell them that I’d felt threatened, just unsafe enough to want to run. Not threatened by cars. Not by people. Not even by darkness and solitude. But by the One, the One who made the angry slate color, the multitudinous churning clouds. The One who made me. The One whose love is so tender, so fierce.

...continue reading...

I’ll Meet You Just Inside The Door [mike]

The alarm clock next to my bed had been making that annoying beeping sound for at least 10 minutes when I finally decided to slap it to the off position. I didn't want to get out of bed but I had to. I yawned, stretched my arms, and brought my feet to cold floor, sliding into my soft slippers.

I scratched the back of my head, looked around the room a little, and then I realized that you were sitting there. You were leaning against the wall staring at me like I was a newborn baby.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey," you said back.

"You know, you really should stop sitting in my room staring at me while I sleep. It's kinda creepy."

You smiled. "Sorry 'bout that. I really can't help it."

"Again . . . creepy." I rolled my eyes and stood up. You stood and paced the room with me.

In truth, I could've gone back to bed right then and there. I already felt like I hated this day and the sun hadn't even risen yet. I didn't want to feel that way . . . I just did. There was some kind of deep longing that I felt in the pit of my heart.

"You know what today is right?" you asked.

"Yea, I know."

"Do you want to talk about it?"

"Um, not really." I said sarcastically.

"Why not?" you gently replied. (It baffles me how you can ask a question like that and not sound pushy. How do you do that?) You stood there quiet as long as I did. You're so patient, you know that?

"Because this whole thing sucks. And it pisses me off that I'm stuck in this position. It wasn't my fault, I got talked into it by Charles!" I ranted. Tears welled up in my eyes but I ducked my head. It wasn't manly to cry. I suddenly felt like throwing things in my room. If I could toss a few pieces of furniture and break a few things, I'd definitely feel better than I did now. I let out a rush of breath and clasped my fingers together on the back of my head. The expletives were mounting in my head and moving down to the tip of my tongue.

It was about then that I heard you inhale. Uh oh, I thought. You were angry. You knew I was thinking those things. I turned around expecting to see a disappointed or disgusted look on your face but that's not what I saw. You had this goofy look on your face. Like the one you would see on a kid who just farted in the middle of class but wasn't ashamed. Your lips were clenched like you were holding back laughter. Seriously? I thought.

Just then, you doubled over and let out a bellowing laugh. I couldn't believe it.

"You're laughing at me?" I said.

You shook your head. "I'm laughing next to you," you said with a goofy voice.
"You're something else, you know that?"

I slowly shook as my eyebrows darkened. "I'm starting to get concerned about you," I said with a chuckle. Truthfully speaking, your whole outburst took my mind off the day I had to face. It was like this peace came over me momentarily when you started laughing. That's weird, isn't it?

Downstairs, you laughed louder than I did at the comics I read in the newspaper as I slurped the milk in my cereal. I looked up and there it was again-- that look that you look at me with. Like I'm some work of art in a museum or something.

"You're really weird you know that?" I said, with a small laugh, as I plunged the spoon back into the bowl.

"Yeah I know," you replied. "Not that many people know how playful and goofy I am. I really like to be that way. They take me too seriously a lot of the time."

"Really?" I said. "That's definitely not you at all."

We headed out to the garage and got into my car. I scanned the stations on the radio and you sat in the passenger seat next to me.

"You know that everything's gonna work out today, right?"

I stopped what I was doing with the radio and dropped my head. "How is that possible?" I replied. My mind returned to the situation I was about to face. It was like someone poured ice-cold water over my head on a hot summer's day.

"It is. You have to trust me," you said.

"Is it cool if we not talk about this?" I replied.

You nodded. "I won't say another word. Just trust me when I say that everything's gonna work out today, okay?"

I rolled my eyes and went back to scanning the channels. I've got to be the most frustrating human being in the world at times. Why do you keep hanging around like you do?

The drive was quiet all the way in to the city. My radio was on scan until it landed on a Coldplay song. "Ah, there we go," I said. "I love this band." I began to hum the song quietly. I'm not a really good singer but you know that already.

"You know, I know this guy," you said and pointed toward the digital info screen on my dash.

"What? Who, Chris Martin?" I replied. "You're telling me that you know Chris Martin from Coldplay?"

"Mm hm."

"Nuh uh! I don't believe you."

"It's true. And he knows me too, believe it or not. He's not real public about our friendship but I'm okay with that. When we talk, I know he considers me a friend."

"Wow, Chris Martin!" I said. The shock was evident in the tone of my voice. You nodded and half smiled at me. You probably thought my star-struckness was funny.

We had to park kinda far from the courthouse and it was raining. I sighed and gripped the steering wheel in my car. I really, really didn't want to go through with this. This feeling of fear and panic pounded on me. It felt like someone punching me in the gut. As I sat there reeling, your hand touched my shoulder. I felt your fingers grip the muscle through my shirt. You're so reassuring. I appreciate that. It gets me through the day a lot. We walked up the courthouse steps and met my attorney. He took me into a room, privately, so he could go over the proceedings. I whispered to you that I would rather you not come in with me. I know you wanted to but I really didn't want you to hear all the filings against me. It's embarrassing.

"I'll meet you just inside the door," you said as my attorney closed the door behind me.

When my attorney finished and led me out to the hallway the knot in my stomach returned. I felt like I was going to puke. That'd be great wouldn't it? If I barfed all over my suit! I just got the stupid thing pressed. I was jumpy and nervous as I watched people file into the courtroom. I felt like every single person stared at me with sharp eyes as they walked by. My attorney kept whispering to me to relax, but I couldn't. This whole thing felt like a judgment on my soul. What would my fate be? Would they lead me right out of the room and down to the gas chamber? Maybe the electric chair or one of those medieval stretching machines like they had in the movie Braveheart. I shook my head, trying to erase these ridiculous thoughts from my mind. Each step I took toward the double doors of the courtroom echoed like a gigantic drum in my ears. A violent panic seized me as I crossed the threshold. I glanced around quickly to see a bunch of cold faces staring back at me. I can't do this, I thought. I'm gonna pass out.

It was about that time that I saw you. Out of every person in the room your eyes were the only ones that showed compassion for me. You smiled this big reassuring smile and I suddenly felt this calmness. I can't explain it. It was instantaneous. How is that possible? My weak knees felt strong again. I was really glad you were with me in that room. I can't even begin to tell you that! I saw you whisper something to me as I passed but I couldn't hear you. I wonder what you said.

Through all of that I heard your words-- Everything's gonna work out today. I actually believed you.

The sun had risen halfway up into the sky as we walked out of the courthouse. I felt relief. There had been a judgment on me but it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.

"Well?" you said as you moved closer to me.

"Well . . . it wasn't that bad after all," I replied. "Probation, and fines to pay, but no jail time or gas chamber."

"What?" you said with a confused look on your face.

I laughed. "Never mind," I said. "I can handle this consequence."

"I told you that everything was going to be okay, didn't I?"

"You did," I said. "I trust you now."

"Well, finally," you replied sarcastically. I laughed and dropped my head.

"I want you to learn from this experience," you said. "I want you to leave that kinda life behind you okay?"

"Okay," I replied. "I promise you that."

"I've got some better ideas for you. How bout we talk about them?"

"That sounds good. How bout we grab some lunch then?" I said.


"By the way, thanks so much for being there with me today. It meant a lot," I said.

"I know. I wouldn't have been anywhere else," you replied.

"So, what did you whisper to me when I walked past you in the courtroom?" I asked with a bit of hesitation.

"You really want to know?" you replied.

"Yes, I do."

"I whispered that I'm with you all the time, even until your days are over."

I thought about that for a moment and then I smiled. You really meant that. I believed that.

"Thank you," I replied.

Lunch was really good that day. You and I spent the entire time talking. I could tell you were relieved that I had finally decided to open up and talk. You'd been waiting for that for a long time.

...continue reading...

April 9, 2010

Philadelphia [jay]

God moves in the city and speaks in the country. It’s a pretty common concept if you think of it from a story perspective. Moses was raised in high culture of Egypt, but did not hear God speak till alone in the wilderness somewhere. Jesus went to the cities to teach and interact, and retreated to the hills to hear from God. God made a garden for Adam and Eve, not a city. Paul spent three years on the backside of the Arabian Desert before planting churches in the cities of the Middle East and Greece. Abraham, Hagar, Jacob, Joseph, Deborah, Samson, David, Esther, John…the dichotomy of country and city is everywhere.

Country and city are more philosophical entities than they are geographical locations. Take for example, my favorite city, Philadelphia. Today, my wife and I traveled here from the country – Lebanon, Pennsylvania – to hang out and visit a friend. As is our custom, our semi-regular pilgrimage to the city of brotherly love begins with a trip to our Mecca of south Philly, Pat’s Steaks. For about ten bucks, one enjoys a culinary utopia of meat, onion, cheese, bread, and soda that is unparalleled in unhealth and unrivaled in unbelievability. I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia about 45 minutes west of the city proper. I love south Philly, I’d love to live and raise my kids in south Philly, and something fun and raw comes alive in me when I am in south Philly. It’s a uniquely common place where I, a uniquely normal guy, feel a legitimate brotherhood with my uniquely salt-of-the-earth stranger brethren.

After our steaks and some shopping on South Street, we decided to check out a bookstore I knew of but had never frequented. Located on the University of Pennsylvania campus, on a block corner across from the Law School, it’s pretty unrivaled in unique selection and diversity of thought. Bookstores make sense to me. I’m at home with my hard and soft covered friends and look forward to making more of their printed acquaintance. But at this bookstore and in the place I am now – a Starbucks just down the block -- I feel weird. It’s not that I feel out of place, or that I don’t fit in, it’s that I just don’t get it. It is tight and uncomfortable with a pedal-to-the-metal kind of feel that is a bit warped (and I’m a pedal-to-the-metal kind of guy). Law students and consultants everywhere, all speaking in a legalese dialect birthed from a bitter mix of insecurity and fear-driven boldness, all for the purpose of God-only-know-what.

It’s enough to drive you crazy. Please tell me I’m not the only one going insane in this packed out coffeehouse.

Pat’s is the country.
This Starbucks is the city.

The Athenians said to Paul, “Let’s go to the Aeropagus to hear more.”
Today we say, “Let’s go to Starbucks to talk more.”

The guy at the table next to me is a law student who looks like the character Abed from that new comedy “Community”. He is trying to land a job with a firm in Chicago. He, and four law student colleagues get twenty minutes with a pretty, articulate law firm consultant hired by the prospective firm, and then another group of four or five students move in to interview for another twenty minutes. It’s like cattle lining up at the slaughterhouse. I assume she’s been slaughtering all day, maybe that’s why she’s so passive-aggressively angry. Anyway, Almost-Abed has already had a job with a firm in Philly and clearly has his sights set on continuing his promotions in Chicago. With an air of mustered courage, he just very authoritatively asked, “Now is that pre-acquisition or post-acquisition as you see it?” And followed it up with thoughts and questions about allocation managers, “SanFran”, intern recruitment strategies, the Boston office, and philosophical management theory. And there are about eight of these conversations with eight different consultants going on at the same time! (By the way, he finished his interview, and I just saw him walking out the first floor doors saying to his buddy that if he lands this job, he’s definitely “getting some of that” once he gets to Chi-town).

Philly is all city -- but for me, south Philly is the country in the city. And every country spot has its city portal where the sun stands still longer than it should and important spiritual, family, personal and communal battles can be won.

The city portal is the place where the voice we hear in the country becomes the voice we speak in the city. Problem is, we mistakenly think it’s our call to produce the voice, when in reality it is our calling to hear the voice. Our calling (calling must be heard) to hear (more listening that takes us back to calling that must be heard) the voice (not our voice, but the Voice that we listen to in order to hear our calling).

The question is not, what do I think?
The question is: what do I hear?
And, what are you hearing?
And, why are we hearing the same voice but not understanding one another?
And, where the hell (or heaven) is that voice coming from?

People think that God speaks in a still, small voice. Well, he certainly did to Elijah, but in other places His voice roars like thunder and shakes mountains. To Balaam, he spoke through a donkey, to Hannah he spoke through a priest, and to Moses he spoke directly like a friend speaks to a friend. The voice of the Lord makes high places low and low places high. It calms the seas, creates the universe, calls the disciples, and cradles the children. When God speaks, all the earth is silent before Him. To be still and know He is God is not an imperative, it is an invitation…an invitation to hear…indeed, to listen.

Listening in the city is not very different from listening in the country. Because the Speaker is one who never changes, the words are not any more or less difficult to receive. The question is: do we have ears to hear? That is the invitation after all – “Let the one who has ears to hear, hear what the Spirit says….” It is a call to listen, to receive, to abide, to rest, to be fulfilled, to be whole.

It is an invitation to shalom.

The Hebrew notion of “shalom” is bigger than peace. Peace is a part of shalom, but it is not shalom. Shalom is wholeness, shalom is solitude and silence. Shalom is harmony, love, rest and beauty.

Wholeness in shalom is all the pieces of One.
Solitude in shalom is presence of One.
Silence in shalom is voice of One.
Harmony in shalom is orchestra of One.
Love in shalom is desire of One.
Rest in shalom is arms of One.
Beauty in shalom is sight of One.

When God says he rested on the seventh day; that was shalom. God’s voice was still as He took His newly created universe and His image-bearers to His higher place – shalom -- and they knew God. His voice did not need to speak, for what needed to be said? God was there, all creation was whole, love was perfect…there was rest.

In Egypt, God’s people were in slavery. When God granted freedom, His heart for them was His rest…their rest…His land…their land. The theme of the conquest book of Joshua is that of rest, not war. The purpose of obedience to the voice of the Lord they received in the wilderness (the country) was to redeem the land of Israel (the cities) so that the land may have rest. But God’s people kept getting more and more noisy. Instead of listening, they kept talking; instead of following, they wanted their own way.

“We’re bored with manna!”
“This water is bitter!”
“We want meat!”
“Make us a golden calf!”
“We will obey, we promise!”
“We won’t obey, forget you!”
“We’re tired of walking!”
“We’re tired of fighting!”
“Moses is amazing!”
“Moses is a chump!”
“Joshua is amazing!”
“Joshua is a chump!”
“Let’s just take the cities we want!”
“Give us a king!”
“Why are we in captivity?!”

Consequently, there was no rest for the land. The land was embittered and angry, the people became selfish and idolatrous and the land was divided and destroyed. A land flowing with milk and honey became a land flowing with blood and pain.

When the Son of God came to earth, He came offering His people their destiny: His Kingship, full and free – all their greatest dreams come true. A return to the seventh day. Shalom.

And they refused. They refused because they heard, but they didn’t listen. They looked, but they didn’t see. They wanted bread, but not Bread of Life. They wanted healing for their bodies, but not healing for their souls. They wanted a king with simple power, not a King with true power. Their love of One voice was polluted with the noise of other voices and before long, they couldn’t hear at all anymore. Their country and city collided and had a bastard child named Striving.

And there was no rest for their souls.

Philadelphia has no rest for its soul. Nor do the people at Pat’s or Almost-Abed. For that matter, neither do I. But I do believe in a frequency of redemption and grace to which we can all be tuned. But the frequency will be neither utilitarian nor pragmatic. It is the Voice of One who alone can speak the wholeness and rest our spirits crave. But it is only heard by those with ears to hear.

...continue reading...

Tyler [hannah]

I wonder if I’m a mutant. Maybe I was a born a mutant or maybe something happened to me that turned me into one. I don’t remember eating kryptonite, or being struck by lighting, or getting an MRI done and during it the room suddenly goes black and sparks fly from the giant machine into my head and doctors are screaming, “Get him out of there! What’s happening?”

Nope, nothing strange ever happened to me that I know of. So I’m not sure where The Ability came from. It just wasn’t there, and then it was-- when I fouled a guy during the semi-finals for the Division II Indiana High School boys basketball state championship.

My coach was glad I fouled him. This kid couldn’t sink a free throw to save his life. I should’ve been happy, but as soon as I touched him I felt queasy and my eyes and mind jerked to the bleachers. To some girl I’d never met before. I couldn’t stop staring at her. I watched her cheer for the opposing team and I wanted to throw up. I adjusted my sweaty jersey and wondered if she thought my sweat was manly or disgusting. Then I wondered what her sweat was like, and my coach yelled at me.

And I knew something wasn’t right.

My friend TJ backhanded my chest and told me to snap out of it. And I did. Which was weird. My mind popped right back into the game like nothing had happened. But now TJ stood like an idiot, staring at the other teams’ fan section. He adjusted his sweaty jersey.

Things got worse after that.

After the game my mom hugged me, and then I was mad at my dad. I was mad that he’d missed dinner that night. I was mad that I’d called him earlier and he’d turned his phone off. Only I hadn’t eaten dinner with my family, and I hadn’t tried to call my dad earlier. My mom had. I stood in the middle of the loud gym and wondered what was wrong with me, but then my mom put her hand on my shoulder and I felt normal again. The weird anger was gone.

I was happy until someone brushed against my arm. I was suddenly terrified that I was going to fail trigonometry. I don’t take trigonometry. I’m not entirely sure what trigonometry is. Someone said, “good job” and patted my back. Trig no longer frightened me.

I was starting to freak out about what was happening to me, so I hurried out of the packed gym. I ran for the safety of locker room showers. No one touches you in there.

And no one touched me all weekend. Which I guess sounds kinda sad, but I’m ok with it. I’m not a snuggler. I don’t exactly kiss my parents goodnight. Me and TJ don’t cuddle on the couch when he comes over to play Xbox. So I was alright until school on Monday when Tammy Weidig handed me a copy of our US History homework. Her hand brushed mine and I felt fat. Huge. I was humiliated to be surrounded by a class full of size-four-girls. I looked down at my own body. My trim 6’2” frame seemed sloppy and disgusting. I wasn’t really a toned athlete. I was a fat pig. No guy was ever going to ask me out. I was going to die without ever having a boyfriend.

I stared over at Tammy. Me and the other guys from the basketball team call her Tranny Wei-pig behind her back, because she’s kinda chubby and we’re kinda jerks. I didn’t know what else to do. I reached over and grabbed her wrist. It worked. I saw her face kinda scrunch in on itself. Then I didn’t feel fat anymore, and I didn’t wish another dude would ask me out.

I raised my hand and told my teacher I was sick. I didn’t bother going to the nurse. I cut class and went home.

My dad wasn’t supposed to be home. My stomach balled into a knot when I saw his car in the driveway. I walked up the sidewalk and heard him yelling. I opened the front door and heard my mom scream back.

They were in the kitchen. They both shut up when I walked in. Dad was red. Mom was white. Dad smelled like Milwaukee’s Best and failure. Mom told me to go to my room. I grabbed some Doritos and obeyed. On the way down the hall the yelling started again. Low at first, then rising higher and higher. I lay on my bed and listened to the muffled roars. Dad would calm down eventually. He’d take his anger out on something. The broken lawnmower in the garage, or whatever team was on ESPN, or my mom. I waited to make sure it was one of the first two.

But he didn’t go to the garage. And he didn’t storm off to the basement and the flat screen. The screaming escalated in the kitchen and I knew where it was heading. So I got up.

Dad wasn’t happy to see me. He’d made it clear that I should stay out of the way when he and mom were having one of their discussions. He yelled something at me, which was actually an insult to my parentage, and threw a dirty cereal bowl at me. I grabbed his shoulder and he shut up. He stared blankly at my face, while my body convulsed with hatred.

I staggered out of the kitchen and punched a wall. I made holes in the drywall and the skin of my knuckles. I ran outside.

I ran down my street. Out of my development. I ran until I was too tired to be angry or scared or anything else. I fell into the dead grass in front of an industrial park. Geese swimming in a green made-man pond honked at me.

It was dark when I got back home. Dad was gone. Mom was crying in the kitchen. I didn’t want to talk to her, but she heard me come in and called for me. She cried harder when she saw my swollen hand. She grabbed it and cried over it and her desperation washed over me. My mind filled with images of painkillers and razor blades and standing on the edges of tall buildings. I yanked my hand away when I saw myself standing on a chair with a rope in my hands. The gruesome pictures scrolled through my brain. I wanted them gone. But they whispered to me and reached for me. They cooed. They were so sweetly strong that I didn’t want to fight them.

I stared at my mom, stunned by what she’d been thinking about, and terrified that I now thought about it. And wanted it.

I looked down at her hand. It was still stretched toward me. I could touch her and these horrible temptations would be hers again. Or I could keep them. I already felt them growing into my brain, like the roots of some evil plant, twisting and wrapping its tentacles into my mind until removing it would mean I would cease to be.

I looked at my own hand. I saw my pulse in my wrist. The skin covering it looked paper-thin. So easy to tear. I couldn’t let my mom keep these thoughts.

I stumbled back to my room eyeing every bit of window glass, or mirror, or even picture frame with lust. I envisioned the medicine cabinet in the bathroom while trying to remind myself why I wanted to live. I fell on my bed. I saw how every object in my room could be used as a weapon against my own body.

My body. Full of these horrible longings. I wanted them gone, but where could they go? To someone else? Who do I force this on? How do I keep myself from ever touching and passing on these desires? When it would be so much better to keep them.

They wanted me. For harm, but they wanted me. And I didn’t know how to tell them no.

...continue reading...

April 6, 2010

Moon [jake]

Lying under the last of summer skies, in the coolness of autumn’s approach, I gave up trying to explain myself.

“I guess I just don’t know what I mean,” I concluded. Plus it was getting late.

“That’s it,” she replied. “That’s the question.”

I ceased breathing for a moment, as perplexed as ever by her response. “What?” I asked, and she just smiled.

I sat up abruptly and turned to her as she remained lying on her back. Thoughts without forms—which would become statements without words—stampeded through my brain, but, anticipating their futility, I kept them penned and held my tongue. She seemed not to notice, her eyes so lost above. She would undoubtedly be the end of me, I thought, feeling strangely exposed.

“We should go,” I said.

Instantly, as though she had been looking at me the entire time, her gaze shifted from deep space into my eyes—which, whenever she peered into them, seemed another sort of deep space. I shivered and tightened my arms around myself.

“We should go,” she echoed.


I had driven her home and was now lying restless in bed, contemplating the night’s conversation in tandem with my own bewilderment by it. It wasn’t that it was too deep or even out of the ordinary—in fact, most things she said tended to go over my head. It was that, I think, something in me finally connected to her words—no, not just her words…

After stirring and pondering for what seemed like hours, I grabbed my cell phone from my nightstand and called my friend, Rob.

“Ugh, yeah?” mumbled the groggy conversant on the other line.


“What is it?”

“Can you meet me somewhere? I can’t sleep.”

He muttered something sleepy and indistinguishable. I waited and stared at my ceiling. “Yeah,” he said. “Yeah, meet me at Dim’s—we’ll grab a beer.”


“No, Greg, not yet—I’m waiting for Rob,” I said to the bartender. “Thanks though, I’ll let you know.” Greg knew me well. His family had owned this bar and restaurant since the ‘70s, and Rob and I had been going there on random late nights for years.

“No problem,” he said. “Let me know.” Greg slung a towel over his shoulder and walked away.

From the bar, I sat and absorbed the familiar surroundings: the faded, maple-stained wall-paneling, the hanging plaques and pictures of legendary patrons, the faint aroma steeped into the walls: beer, food, and dust. I glanced over my shoulder to see Rob staggering in, rubbing his eyes. He nodded his head toward a corner booth in the back, where we usually sat, and I followed his lead.

“Two, please,” Rob called as I slid across from him into the booth.

“You got it, guys,” Greg responded.

We sat quietly for awhile, while Rob gradually shed layers of sleep. For the first time I can remember, sitting in that same seat, I consciously looked out the window just above my friend’s head: the moon seemed noticeably fuller and brighter.

“Damn it, we’re getting too old to do this,” Rob yawned, stretching his arms like wings behind his head. “It was cool in college, but now… I don’t know.” He laughed and brought his arms back down. I nodded.

“Here you go, gentleman.” Greg placed our drinks on the table. “Just holler if you need a refill.” We thanked him and continued silently for awhile. I spun the coaster I wasn’t using for my drink on the table a couple times.

Rob took the first drink. “You know,” he said, pausing to savor the taste, “I’ve got to admit, I love this place. It’s tradition, you know? Makes you feel like you know who you are.” He took another drink. “It’s belonging.”

I nodded and took a slow drink.

“I had an interesting conversation with Sophie today,” I started, peering into my glass. “An interesting day, really.”



We each sipped our beers.

“I don’t know why I feel the need to talk this out, other than to capture some aspect of the swirling in my head, you know? Give some substance to these thoughts…” I sighed. “I don’t know if that will do a thing at all.”

“No,” Rob replied, “it’s cool, man. I’m listening. You’re here for me; I’m here for you—that’s why we started doing this.”

“Yeah, I know,” I agreed, still a little uneasy.

“So continue,” Rob said, holding his glass to his lips. I adjusted my position in the booth seat. Rob gulped his beer.

“Okay so, to start, the morning was a little unusual, but not dramatically—only in the sense that I woke up to her phone call rather than the alarm I had set for an hour later.

“‘You need to get up,’ she said cheerfully. ‘There’s something I want to show you.’

“‘Now?’ I asked her.

“‘Yes, now,’ she said. ‘I’m outside.’

“So a t-shirt and a yesterday’s jeans later, I was slouching into her passenger seat and closing her car door. I told her that I had work in about two hours, just so she was aware, but instead of responding, she just asked if I was ready and smiled.

Rob laughed and I took another drink. “So where’d she end up taking you?”

“Totally random,” I exclaimed, though now I thought it considerably less so. “We pulled up to some old abandoned gas station, miles outside of town. I wouldn’t say I was completely shocked, but it was still a surprise.

“‘Isn’t it tragic?’ she asked rhetorically, stepping out of her car. She grabbed her camera from the backseat and started snapping photographs. Meanwhile I still sat in the passenger seat, wondering what she was doing, as usual. ‘You know how they say that homes without someone living in them seem to die faster?’ she asked. She continued speaking, but I had gotten out of the car by then and was circling the building. Someone had apparently smashed the padlock on the front door with a sledge or something, so Sophie and I wandered in and explored the place. It was somewhat interesting, but mostly just filthy. She meandered around in complete silence while I wrote my name in the dust on the counter.

“I was underlining my signature when she approached me and said, ‘Let’s go.’ She looked concerned, or contemplative.

“‘Let’s go,’ I echoed.

“The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. She brought me back home and I got ready for work. I spent the rest of the day working, and then she called me as soon as I got off.

“‘Can we go talk?’ she asked me—which seemed a slightly unusual request for her.

“‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘Do you want me to come over?’

“‘Yeah, but take me somewhere. I want to go somewhere.’

“I was already driving back from work, so I just swung by her place to pick her up. I didn’t have a clue where to take her, but she seemed convinced that it should be up to me, so I headed out to that old field north of the city—you know, where we used to play capture-the-flag when we were kids?”

Rob nodded as he finished the last of his glass.

“So we pulled off of the dirt road and onto the field a little ways and got out. I grabbed a blanket from the bed of my truck and said, ‘I don’t know if this is what you had in mind, but—’ and she cut me off.

“‘Perfect,’ she said, marveling at the sky above us. ‘It’s great.’

“I rolled the blanket out in front of my truck, and we laid out on it, just staring silently for awhile.

“‘Look at that aura,’ she said, referring to the aura produced by the full moon, enveloped by a single, gray cloud. The scene was cliché to be sure—a guy and a girl in a field looking at the stars—but the more I told myself this, the more I felt pulled in by her gravity. I was captivated; the same aura that she saw above was shimmering in her eyes as she looked on. Hers was the aura I wanted, but it seemed that the further she affixed her eyes, the further I would be from reaching that aura—no matter how close to her body I was.

“‘Well?’ she asked, still gazing up.

“‘Well what?’ I responded, hoping for an invitation, but sensing something different.

“‘I thought you wanted to talk,’ she said. Once again, she had lost me—effortlessly, but cavalierly.

“‘I—what? I thought you said you wanted to talk about something.’

“She made a terse sigh, evidently frustrated with my response.

“We laid there in utter silence. She just stared on into the atmosphere, and I grew surprisingly upset about our conversation. For some unexplainable reason, it agitated something within me, deeply. I felt physically uncomfortable, shifting and squirming on the blanket. My eyes darted around for something to focus on, but the only things present were the moon and Sophie—both of which felt equally vexing. With nothing visual to distract me from my discomfiture, I was forced to seek release vocally.

“‘It’s like—I don’t know. I have never known, Sophie. I, well, you—you’re inexplicable, Sophie. You’re too simple and yet too complex. You’re a mystery—that sounds stupid. It’s like—a question. No, what question? I don’t know—I don’t know what you think I wanted to talk about, but I….”

“So there we were. Lying under the last of summer skies, in the coolness of autumn’s approach, I gave up trying to explain myself.

“‘I guess I just don’t know what I mean,’ I concluded. Plus it was getting late.

“‘That’s it,” she replied. ‘That’s the question.’

“I ceased breathing for a moment, as perplexed as ever by her response. ‘What?’ I asked. She just smiled.

“I can’t explain it. I had always thought that the feeling in me was for her—that the magnetism I sensed near her was love or something—but I don’t know. It was like, in that moment, something in me, beyond thought or attraction, connected not just to her words, but to her meaning. I just don’t know that I’ve ever felt that before.”

I sat still, staring out the window at that moon again.

“The truck,” Rob interjected.


“In the field, when you wanted to distract yourself. You could’ve looked at your truck.”

A couple seconds passed. I nodded and emptied my glass.

Rob raised his hand and called Greg for two more beers.

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Yellow Shoes [steffeny]

Listen . . .

Do you hear it? Can you hear? As I sit the walls scream out to me. The perfectly painted walls, smart and glamorous, glorious crown molding proclaims. The charming matching curtains chime in. The neatly kept granite counters command. Together the chorus demands:

Be perfect. Look good. Be wonderful. Hide your hurt, your worries, your uncertainty, and insecurity. There’s no room for realness here. Pull yourself together. No corner of this house can take your mess. We will not accept it. Put on a smile. Harden your heart. We will show you the way to live in a house such as this. No crying. No pouting. No real life allowed. Only our make believe, fabricated, fake world can survive. This is the house on Barbi Lane where everything is beautiful.

Thus goes the familiar song of colorful compulsion and condemnation. But today something inside of me is compelled to answer back. No, I declare. My heart is a mess. My heart is alive. You perfectly painted walls, you fountain sinks and falls. I hear you call out to me, but I decline your request for pretense and perfection. And so a battle begins. Resistance is born and I find it personified in the form of two yellow shoes.

They’re bright, cheery, and unassuming. I love them. But the house snubs at them. She can’t even bear to have them near. They make my heart smile and remind me that freedom from sternly matching décor is possible.
As I step into the “princess bathroom” I feel the chic coupled blacks and whites sharply closing in around me. They surround me from every angle. Their piercing glares could tear me to shreds in minutes. Even the hot pink walls are menacing, sneering at me and my yellow shoes. The pristine granite shower and shining silver racks displaying matching towels neatly tied with polka dotted bows look down at me, growling their judgments. Their contempt cuts deep to my core. My heart feels the stabbing pain. This place might envelope my precious yellow shoes at any moment, sucking them off my feet and down into the underworld, sentencing them below into a dark abyss forever. This house will not tolerate their quiet defiance. Somehow my simple shoes stand a threat to this perfectly polished empire of elegance.

But wait, I stammer, I grew up in this house. It fits me. (I think…) Its messages and mantras fill my mind. I love my cheery yellow shoes. (Don’t I?) But I hear the accusations; you aren’t REALLY going to wear those shoes, are you??? I’m torn. I love the house on Barbi Lane and I love my precious yellow shoes. What do I do? How do I choose? I don’t want to revolt. I don’t want to rebel. And I don’t want to hide my yellow shoes.

Dear Barbi Lane,
Your daughter loves yellow shoes. Do you think that maybe you could love them too?

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