Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Dylan Thomas, Christmas, New Orleans, and Me

I remember my childhood Christmas celebrations by presents and relatives.

The earliest Christmas I recall must have been when I was three. My mother, at her wit’s end by my constant pulling of pots and pans from the shelves, prevailed upon my father to buy a toy set, which was interesting, but not as interesting as the jack-in-the-box my father had searched New York City for, or the Davy Crockett coonskin hat (with faux racoon tail) that was all the rage because of the television series with Fess Parker. The Christmas puppy arrived when I was six. The Lionel model train came when I was seven. The “big boy’s” bike (26-inch wheels) showed up when I was 9. The bb gun came at 10. The last remembered present was a chess set using the characters of Augustan Rome – Augustus for the king, Livia for the queen, and Cicero for the bishop. I still have it.

And the relatives. We lived in New Orleans, my mother’s hometown, and she came from a large family. For years, our suburban ranch home was the place for Christmas dinner, for no other reason that it had a large den that could hold everyone for dinner. My mother would always make the pies and the fruit salad. My father would cook the Christmas turkey and make oyster dressing, which everyone in the family raved about. Except me. I wouldn’t eat it, possibly because I saw what the raw oysters looked like going into it. 

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, December 17, 2018

"Dancing Priest" Free on Amazon Kindle This Week

Dancing Priest, the first novel in the series, is free on Amazon Kindle this week. 
Michael Kent…
A young man studying to become a priest finds love, and learns that faith can separate.
A university cyclist seeking Olympic gold finds tragedy, death and heroism.
A pastor thousands of miles from home seeks vocation and finds fatherhood.
Sarah Hughes…
A young woman living abroad finds love and loses family.
A university student meets a faith she cannot accept.
An artist finds faith and learns to paint with her soul.
Dancing Priest is the story of Michael Kent and Sarah Hughes and a love, born, separated, and reborn, in faith and hope.

“Wild Fire” by Ann Cleeves

It’s the end of the road for Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez of the Shetland Police Force.

Wild Fire by Ann Cleeves is the eighth and final volume in the Shetland mystery series. Cleeves is ending the popular series because, she says, she’s told all the stories she wanted to tell and she likes Shetlanders too much to kill off any more of them.

Two more die in Wild Fire.

A young nanny is found hanging in a barn of a home owned by English transplants. The nanny works for another family, and the scene is the site of the suicide of the man who previously owned the property. Forensic examination determines that the young woman was already dead when the body was hung. Her purse and shoes are also nowhere to be found.

Perez and his officer Sandy Wilson begin the investigation, but he’s required to call the case in to Aberdeen, and Willow Reeves arrives to lead. We met Reeves in Cold Earth, when she and Perez were investigating a case and soon found themselves investigating each other. Perez has deep feelings for Reeves, but he’s still not over the death of his fiancĂ©e Fran, for which he bears a sense of guilt. 

Reeves arrives with some surprise news. She’s pregnant with Perez’s child. Perez responds with anger, believing he’s been taken advantage of or, at worst, used. He knew Reeves had wanted to have a child. The tensions of investigating the murder are overlaid with the tensions of their relationship.

They run across a woman who has a rather spiteful, gossiping tongue, and whose son was involved with the dead woman. Her gossiping tongue apparently gets her into more trouble than she expected; she’s found dead, a victim of strangling. The investigation of the two murders takes Perez and Reeves deep into the lives of the two families involved.

Ann Cleeves
Cleeves has published eight mysteries in the Jimmy Perez / Shetland series, including Raven Black (2008), Red Bones (2009), White Nights (2010), Blue Lightning (2011), Dead Water (2014), Thin Air (2015), and Cold Earth (2017), with Wild Fire published in September. She’s also published eight mystery novels in the Vera Stanhope series (also a television series), six Inspector Stephen Ramsay mysteries, and several others works and short stories. The Jimmy Perez novels are the basis for the BBC television series “Shetland.” Cleeves lives in northeastern England.

As an enthusiastic reader of the Shetland books and an enthusiastic fan of the television program, I’m of two minds about the ending of the series. On the one hand, both the books and the TV program are highly entertaining, with those stark brooding Shetland vistas matching the brooding perspective of Perez. On the other hand, when it’s time for an author to stop a series, the author knows it. And perhaps it’s best to go out on a high note.

Wild Fire is as much the story of Willow Reeves as it is of Jimmy Perez. It leaves fewer clues as to the murderer’s identity for the reader than the previous books, and the solution could have gone in any of several ways – possible motives littered the Shetland landscape. 

But the series is done, and we wish Detective Inspector Perez and his boss Willow Reeves the best in their new career undertakings.


Top photograph: A view of Lerwick, the largest town in the Shetland Islands and the home base for Jimmy Perez. By Erik via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

A hiding place

After Psalm 32

Panting, the in the darkness
of the cave, escaping
from the mouths tearing
at my heels, falling
to my knees, a body,
a soul exhausted

Here is the hiding place,
here is the deliverance,
here is the cleft in the rock,
the place of safety,
the knowledge of security,
where the mouths do not bite,
the waters do not rise,
the foe does not consume,

and arms surround me

Photograph by Dmitry Ratushny via Unsplash. User with permission.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday Good Reads

I was a senior in high school when I read The First Circle by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. And then I read Cancer Ward, and One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. I was an almost brand-new copy editor at a newspaper in Texas when the first volume of The Gulag Archipelago was published in Paris, and the first day it was available in English found me at the Methodist Bookstore in downtown Houston buying my copy. 

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
I’ve since read the other two volumes of the Gulag, his memoir The Oak and the Calf, his novels of World War I, his poetry, his speeches, and just about everything else he wrote. I could argue that Solzhenitsyn’s writing and faith had an enormous impact on my formative years and after. This month is the 100th anniversary of his birth, and Daniel Mahoney at City-Journal and Joseph Pearce at The Imaginative Conservative have tributes to the man and what he accomplished.

The famous flu pandemic of 1918-19 killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide, including 550,000 in the United States (about the same number who died in the Civil War). For some time now, it’s believed to have started in a small town in Kansas and been carried to Europe by American troops fighting in the war. New medical detective work is unraveling that belief. Helen Branswell at STAT has the story.

Jake Meador at Mere Orthodoxy has a list of the year’s best magazine writing, and it contains some excellent articles. The Hudson Review has published a new short story by Wendell Berry. The funeral of President George H.W. Bush inspired a story in Smithsonian Magazine on the somber history of the presidential funeral train. And James Heartfield at Spiked explains why the poets of World War I matter.

More Good Reads

Writing and Literature

30 Words Invented by Shakespeare – Michael at Daily Writing Tips.

Home and Hearth: A Cautionary Christmas with Washington Irving – Christine Norvell at The Imaginative Conservative.

Merton & Blake, Revisited – Michael Higgins at Commonweal.

Life and Culture

How Overparenting Backfired on Americans – Jonathan Haidt (video).

8 years and $550 million: A pro-life political failure – Jesse Johnson at The Cripplegate.

Oh, the sweet irony of Jordan Peterson’s fame – Rex Murphy at National Post.


Join Me on a Ride to Malvern – Kimberly Wagner.

Fathers and Churches – Rod Dreher at American Conservative.


The boy left behind in Nazi Vienna – Nik Pollinger at BBC (Hat Tip: J of India).


Lament for Mother Earth – Joy Lenton at Poetry Joy.

A Quintet of Sonnets for Mary – Malcolm Guite at The Imaginative Conservative.

For the Nativity – John Heath-Stubbs via Kingdom Poets.

The Underworld – Dana Gioia at The Hudson Review.

The Sermon and the Whisper – Nathan Koblintz at Thinking Faith (Hat Tip: J of India).

A Lesson Heard in Longfellow’s Home – Barry York at Gentle Reformation.

Art and Photography

The Spiritual Mechanics of Labor and Rest – Jack Baumgartner at The School for the Transfer of Energy.

Maple and Oak – Tim Good at Pixels.

O Holy Night – Hillsong Worship

Painting: Portrait of a Man with a Newspaper, oil on canvas by Andre Derain, 1911-1914; State Hermitage Museum, Russia. 

Friday, December 14, 2018

A Street Conversation

“No one’s home,” said an elderly woman standing on the porch next door. “She left early this morning with a suitcase, so she must have been going out of town. Robert and his chum left a little while ago. They should be in school at this time of day.”

Michael said a short prayer of thanks for busybodies. “Did you see which way they went?”

The woman nodded. “To your right, likely for the square at the end of the block. Do I know you? You sound familiar but my eyesight isn’t the best.”

-       From Dancing Prophet  

Photograph by Cristian Newman via Unsplash. Used with permission.


After Psalm 32

The weight
pressed upon me, heavy,
deadening, imprisoning
me into immobility,
the wasting away
beginning, sapping
strength, draining,

I cried out

Believing they meant
freedom, I placed
these chains on myself

I cried out

a heart opening
and emptying,
a spirit surrendering
and acknowledging,
a soul unfolding
what it had hidden

The cry was heard

Photograph by Jeremy Perkins via Unsplash. Used with permission.