Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hot Medicinal Pink

At the YMCA, grunting
in between exercises called
forties and cat-and-camel,
after left bridge – right bridge
and ball toss and squats, and
the stretching and contortions
designed to improve flexibility
and determine if I have any
muscles left to tear, I see it
sitting rather forlorn and alone
in a corner, a pink chair,
the shade of Pepto-Bismol
that my parents believed
cured all stomach ailments,
a medicinal hot pink, my mind
traveling from chair to medicine
to that stomach ache when I
was five which wasn’t as bad
as the scarlet fever when I
was three or the croup when I
was six and my father fixed me
hot tea and homemade waffles
and I wonder what it is about
pink that always reminds me
of illness.

This poem is submitted to dVerse Poets for Open Link Night. The links will be live at 2 p.m. Central time.

Without my intending it, it also became another in the series of poems about growing up in the South, suggested by my friend Nancy Rosback.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Listening to the rain

Yesterday morning, I walked outside to change up the soaker hoses in the gardens, and discovered something was falling from the sky. It was rain – lovely, much needed rain, a good soaking rain that lasted until lunchtime. If our rain gauge is correct, we received more than an inch.

I listened to the sound of the water traveling the downspout outside my home office window. I was working on the edits for the manuscript to A Light Shining, the sequel to Dancing Priest. I had set it aside for a time, before trying to work through the changes suggested by both the editor and a serious reader. I’m going through the changes now, making steady progress.

Most of the edits are relatively easy – small technical things, like using book style versus the Associated Press style I have written with for more than 40 years; and a few corrections to align what’s in the book with various current practices and situations. The technical edits are things like the use of commas in a series, how to write numbers, and the use of em-dashes instead of hyphens. These are relatively minor things, but you have to go through them page by page. Tedium is an integral part of the writing process.

Some criticism and issues are not minor. To explain what these in are in great detail would give the story away, but I can say they focus on five of the six sections. Some sections are felt to drag and get bogged down in too much detail; others are questioned as to whether they’re needed to not.

With Dancing Priest, I removed some material almost wholesale, before anyone saw the finished manuscript (except for my wife). A section involving the father of Sarah and David Hughes was removed, as was an extended wedding scene. In fact, the original manuscript ended with a wedding; the published book ends with an engagement. The wedding, by the way, is not in the sequel; A Light Shining begins after the wedding.

Part of what I’m wrestling with is that the serious criticisms from the editor and the reader were not the same. In fact, in some cases, they contradicted each other. One liked Part 1; one didn’t. One liked Part 2, and one didn’t. Both liked Part 3 but suggested extensive changes. They did agree on ending the book at a point different from the current manuscript.

As the King of Siam told Anna, is a puzzlement. Except a solution is forming in the back of my mind, where I’m letting it sit for now, a solution involving a new character.

So the plan is: get through the technical edits and corrections; set where the manuscript is at that point; determine how much rewriting is needed; and consider this new character. What will remain is the larger, overarching story. A Light Shining is less of a romance that Dancing Priest, and it covers only about a year. But it is the year that everything changes for Michael and Sarah, and their story becomes a much larger story.

In the meantime, I listen to the rain, hear the water falling through the downspout, and am thankful for this much needed change.

Photograph: Rain by Jiri Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Stone Wall

Way up Magazine Street,
that’s how you said it: way up
for up the river from downtown
and the French Quarter and actually
I think it was Tchoupitoulas Street, was
the place for bands and music, F&M Patio
(no one said Fump & Manny’s), where
no one checked for IDs for beer but
you had to show your driver’s license
for mixed drinks, until the night
of the police raid (someone forgot to pay
the monthly fee?) and we tossed
the drinks and I boosted my date up
the stone wall surrounding the patio
and pulled myself up after her and we
jumped to the other side fortunately there
were too many of us to chase down and
they forgot to cover the back of the place
and good thing too because my date
was the daughter of a federal marshal and
I wouldn’t have wanted to explain
to her daddy why he had to post bail so
we ran to my car and drove off through
flashing police lights and six blocks away
when we stopped being scared we
started laughing about how fast we climbed
that stone wall. F&M reopened a few weeks
later and we were back.

This is another poem in the series about growing up in the South (New Orleans, to be specific in this case), suggested by my friend Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Saturday Good Reads

A classic film review of one of my favorite movies – Babette’s Feast. It’s Wallace Stevens over at The American Conservative and Samuel Taylor Coleridge at Englewood Review of Books. Nancy Rosback sings the Bad Old Woman Blues. Beautiful photos of wild horses in France. J of India heads westward, and Eva Cassidy sings about those fields of gold (and I like this version even better than Sting’s).

Some wonderful stuff this week. (And there's an Olympic cycling event this morning, and the British are favored to win. Why does this remind me of some novel?)


We Took to the Ramshackle Victorian near the Woods” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

Approval” by Michael Perkins at The Handwritten.

Rich Christians, World Poverty, Guilt, Giving and How Much?” By Anita Mathias at Dreaming Beneath the Spires.

The Asterisk Beside Our Dash” by Scott Couchenour at Serving Strong.

Significance” by Jeanne Damoff at The View From Here.

Who is James Holmes?” by Bill Coffey at What I Learned Today.

Classic Film Review: Babette’s Feast” by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.

Message in Christian Fiction” by Adam Blumer at Meaningful Suspense.


Into the Mystic with Wallace Stevens” by Rod Dreher at The American Conservative.

Dance cards” and “In the hand of a smaller morning” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Jukichi Yagi” by D.S. Martin at Kingdom Poets.

Standing Stones II” by Chris Yokel.

Gernicka Remembered” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Bad Old Woman Blues” and “Don’t Miss” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Youth and Age” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge via Englewood Review of Books.

Paintings and Photographs

The Original Hopper Houses” by New York Times Magazine.

Geranium” and “Tree” by Tom Good at Good Photography.

Wandering Westward” by J of India at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Midway” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

The White Wild Horses of Camargue, France” via Abraham Piper at 22 Words.

Laramie to Lander,” oil on panel by Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.


Fields of Gold” by Eva Cassidy.

Photograph: London Olympic Torch by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The retiree

He was three when he learned
and filed the knowledge forever
that the retired couple next door
loved children, especially those
who lived in the duplex next door
and so would always have a square
of Kraft’s fudge, sometimes
chocolate, sometimes vanilla
(his favorite), wrapped
in clear cellophane. All
the boy had to do was knock
on the back screen door and
the man would open it
with a smile and offer the square
of Kraft fudge, and the old man
and the little boy would sit
on the concrete steps, eating
their squares of Kraft fudge

This is another in a series of poems about growing up in the South, suggested by my friend Nancy Rosback.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

England in Literature

A few years ago, I was known to haunt used book fairs and come home with bags chock full of what I called “great buys” and my wife called “more books?!” I would usually look for two kinds of books – texts about speeches and speechwriting, and old literary classics, both fiction and poetry.

At one of those fairs, my eye fell on a piece of my own educational history: England in Literature, originally published in 1963 by the Scott Foresman Company. My high school didn’t get the book until my senior year (1968-69), which was the year for taking English literature (with one six weeks period devoted to world literature, which in the case of our class was Don Quixote by Cervantes).

But there it was, sitting in a pile of other textbooks, with its distinctive cover photo of waves crashing upon rocks. It was priced at all of $1.

Yes, I bought it.

I took it home, sat in a quiet spot, and began to look through it.

I was back in Miss Shorey’s 12th grade English class.

Miss Shorey lived with her sister on one of the wealthiest streets in New Orleans, in a large red-brick colonial with white columns in front. She had an undergraduate degree in physics, but she loved literature, and she eventually gained enough tenure to teach what every English teacher in our all-boys public high school wanted to teach – 12th grade English Lit. She was in her early 60s and was all of 5’2”. Her dresses were always high-necked, with a lace collar.

She also wore white gloves.

She spoke very precisely, enunciating each word perfectly in her (very) slight New Orleans accent. She believed it was important to set an example for speaking properly for her students – classrooms full of 17- and 18-year-old boys with last names like Boudreaux, Melancon, Guidry, Sanchez, Gonzales and Hebert (pronounced A-bear). And one named Young.

She led us through Beowulf, helping us to imagine fighting Grendl. She had us read a censored version of Chaucer. And Shakespeare, of course. “No one can be considered educated unless they have memorized at least one soliloquy from Shakespeare.” That is a direct quote from Miss Shorey. We were required to memorize and recite one; I chose the dagger speech from Macbeth and still remember most of it today. (The textbook included Hamlet; the class also read Macbeth.)

And she introduced us to the English poets – Sidney and Spenser, John Donne, Herrick and Lovelace, and Milton (she liked Milton; the class didn’t), Gray, Burns, Blake, and all of the Romantics. And Tennyson and the Brownings. She didn’t neglect the 20th century, either: the World War I poets, and Yeats, Eliot and Dylan Thomas. And we read Pygmalion by Shaw.

I leaf through this old textbook today, and I see what gave me an abiding love for literature, and why I tool English literature in college with the English majors when everyone else took the American literature classes. I know why old editions of certain books sit on my bookshelves, like Eliot’s The Hollow Men (bought for a project for Miss Shorey’s class), and the Poems of Rupert Brooke, and several volumes of G.K. Chesterton, and Tennyson’s Idylls of the King.

And Don Quixote. She required the class to read only the abridged version; she said she simply couldn’t force teenaged boys to read the unabridged with its close to a thousand pages and no pictures. But two of us read the whole thing – Jesse Stephenson and I. I remember how we talked ourselves through it, and say at lunch discussing it, and kept each other on track to finish it.

England in Literature. I loved the book. I loved the class. And Miss Shorey.

MacBeth, Act 2, Scene 1

Is this a dagger which I see before me,
The handle toward my hand? Come, let me clutch thee.
I have thee not, and yet I see thee still.
Art thou not, fatal vision, sensible
To feeling as to sight? or art thou but
A dagger of the mind, a false creation,
Proceeding from the heat-oppressed brain?
I see thee yet, in form as palpable
As this which now I draw.
Thou marshall’st me the way that I was going;
And such an instrument I was to use.
Mine eyes are made the fools o’ the other senses,
Or else worth all the rest; I see thee still,
And on thy blade and dudgeon gouts of blood,
Which was not so before. There’s no such thing:
It is the bloody business which informs
Thus to mine eyes. Now o’er the one halfworld
Nature seems dead, and wicked dreams abuse
The curtain’d sleep; witchcraft celebrates
Pale Hecate’s offerings, and wither’d murder,
Alarum’d by his sentinel, the wolf,
Whose howl’s his watch, thus with his stealthy pace.
With Tarquin’s ravishing strides, towards his design
Moves like a ghost. Thou sure and firm-set earth,
Hear not my steps, which way they walk, for fear
Thy very stones prate of my whereabout,
And take the present horror from the time,
Which now suits with it. Whiles I threat, he lives:
Words to the heat of deeds too cold breath gives.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Poems of Padraig Daly

Padraig Daly is an Augustinian priest in the Dublin parish of Ballyhoden. He’s published several poetry collections and translations from poets writing in Irish and the Italian poet Edoardo Sanguineti.

In his own poetry, and especially The Last Dreamers: New and Selected Poems, the reader finds Daly focused on faith and how it is expressed, in the importance of daily life (be it in Ireland or Italy), in rituals, in loving and comforting, and in prayer.

To continue reading, please see my post today at The Master’s Artist.

We Still Don’t Have an Intro

Six more chapters, more than three fourths of the way in the book, and our hero Paul Chowder still hasn’t written his introduction to the volume of poems. He’s visited Longfellow’s house, laid a plank floor, cleaned up the barn, sliced his fingers a few times, and bought a bead making kit.

And he’s talked a lot about poetry.

Led by Lyla Lindquist at Tweetspeak Poetry, we’ve been reading The Anthologist by Nichloson Baker. It claims to be a novel, and I think it’s that, but it could also be that introduction that Chowder is unable to start for his anthology of poems that rhyme. Whatever it is, it’s also a fairly in-depth if idiosyncratic introduction to the poetry of the late 19th and 20th centuries.

Chowder clearly thinks Walt Whitman is suspect, the French started it all by translating Poe into free verse (in French, of course), and the abominations of abominations is Ezra Pound. Still, the introduction awaits. Chowder seems to have moved beyond even feeling guilty about not doing it. My own anxiety has lessened as well; it’s amazing how anxious I was getting about a fictional character avoiding doing his work. I considered suggesting that he read Julia Cameron’s The Artist Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, which is all about dealing with creative blocks (and the book we discussed at TweetSpeak before this one).

I’d been having the nagging feeling that I’d read something like this before, and I think I’ve identified it – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. The Anthologist is like a Hitchhiker’s Guide to Poetry, except in this case we know the answer and the question. (If you haven’t read the Hitchhiker series, the hero of the story has the answer to everything in the universe – the number 3. He simply has to find the question.)

Chowder takes down rabbit hole after rabbit hole (anything to avoid writing that introduction). But what is slowly emerging is the understanding that there is a method to what often seems like stream of consciousness madness. Something is indeed going on here, and it’s about more than the decline of poetry that rhymes and similar global disasters.

We’re on a roller coaster ride of poetry, catching glimpses of Whitman, Swinburne, Teasdale, Millay, Lindsay, Eliot, Pound (the villain), Elizabeth Bishop, and even Billy Collins and Ted Kooser. We learn where the U.S. poet laureate program came from, and how Vachel Lindsay killed himself by drinking Lysol. We see all the politics of poetry, and who gets cut from what anthology. And we keep reading, even if listening to Chowder is like driking water from a fire hose.

Can you tell I’m enjoying this crazy weird book?

Please visit TweetSpeak Poetry to see what Lyla Lindquist has cooked up to try to explain the chapters we’re discussing today.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Book Spine Poetry

I have a post over at TweetSpeak Poetry today – Poetry on the Spines of Books. It’s about finding the poetry staring at you from your bookshelves.

I tired one or two myself, and the “poem” featured in the photograph above is the result.

The credible company
coloring outside the lines,
finding joy
beyond bullet points,
breaking free,
leading change,
creating the corporate soul.

For the record, here are the titles and authors who provided the “lines:”

The Credible Company by Roger D’Aprix.

Coloring Outside the Lines by Roger Schank.

Finding Joy by Mac Anderson.

Beyond Bullet Points by Cliff Atkinson.

Breaking Free by David Noer.

Leading Change by John Kotter.

Creating the Corporate Soul by Roland Marchand.

So take a look at TweetSpeak Poetry today. There’s no telling where this might end.

At Work As It Is in Heaven

Today over at The High Calling today, I’m interviewing J.B. Wood on his new ebook, At Work As It Is in Heaven. The interview begins at THC and finishes up here. I reviewed the book on July 13, and found it to be one of the best I’ve read on the subject.

Talking to Jim is just as insightful as reading his book and the columns he writes for The High Calling. He combines a wealth of corporate experience and his Christian faith to address the questions, can we live our faith at work, and how do we do that?

His answers are compelling – and challenging.

Is there or will there be a tension between "God and others first" and personal ambition? How does a Christian keep personal ambition in perspective -- knowing that he or she has gifts that God wants to see exercised?

I think ambition gets a bad rap, especially from the Evangelical church. Ambition is not limited to greedy MBA’s. Anyone who has a dream is ambitious. Anyone who builds a church is ambitious. The Bible warns against “selfish ambition” as the stumbling block to our spiritual lives, where we get caught up in our own versions of life and status and popularity rather than seeking out the best interests of others in the process. Sure, it’s a challenge to keep the selfish ego in check, but that applies as much to the high school drama student or mega-church pastor as it does to the investment banker.

The workplace today is a curious and sometimes conflicting combination of the command-and-control hierarchy, or the old industrial model, and the consensus or network model. What understanding does a Christian need to have to navigate that combination?

The Christian has to be him/herself with God’s truth and indwelling Spirit as the foundation of character and conduct. Either model can work, and both are imperfect, which will invariably bring conflict, tension, misunderstandings, etc. Much depends on the organizational history and culture. I think it’s the Christian’s job to bring excellence, grace, character and compassion, whatever the structure.

Clearly we're not supposed to spend our time at work handing out tracts and evangelizing our colleagues with sermons. Our employers pay us in the expectation that we do something that creates value for the organization. So how do we live our faith in the workplace?

I for one am absolutely convinced that our faith is lived out by simply being our best selves while fully engaging in our work. That’s it. We don’t have to do anything special at work to “prove” something to Jesus about our devotion or salvation. By being our best selves, made in the image of God, seeking His guidance, filled with His spirit, looking out for the best interests of others, displaying the highest of values, ethics, and character in all of our business conduct and interactions with colleagues, we are glorifying God.  That gives you plenty to work with.
What do you say to the Christian who reads the book and says, "This is all fine and good but you don't know my workplace, my day-to-day reality. It's a viper's nest."

Hmmm. I feel for them. I heard a high-powered speaker recently (an investment banker!) talk about being tired of “parking his soul at the door” before going into the office. His antidote was in finding a “Stillpoint” and “Soul-Crafting” his business as a way to anchor his values and character in the midst of the viper’s nest work-world. It sounded like it worked for him, although he was clearly in a position of influence and power in his situation.

Ultimately, one shouldn’t stay in a work environment that is unhealthy or destructive to one’s soul. If at all possible, seek a new place of employment. Life’s too short, and each of us has some level of control over these things. 

So is our work -- our daily work wherever and whatever it is -- a kind of mission?

Yes, although it may not be a blinding-light kind of mission. Life is a constant unraveling, and our job is to make the most of what’s right in front of us, in order to get the nudge to see whatever’s next. If you call that a mission, then that’s what our daily work is. 

What would you like to see happen when someone reads and understands this book?

 I hope it gives them a sense that they are not alone, that God has them at their place of work for a purpose, whatever the circumstance, that God’s kingdom can be furthered in the very act of showing up to work every day and channeling their efforts to the greater good of those around them. God’s grace is always available, but we must participate. There’s always hope.


The interview at The High Calling (live at 7 a.m. Central time).

J.B. Wood blogs at Shrinking the Camel.

My review of At Work As It Is in Heaven.

Photograph: Office Buildings in London by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Contemporary Prodigal

Never have I read a better contemporary illustration of the story of the prodigal son than I’ve read in Out of a Far Country by Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan.

Yet it is not the story of one prodigal. It’s the story of two. And perhaps three, and more. Though it may be hard for many of us who call ourselves Christian to recognize ourselves in this story, the fact is we are there, too.

Christopher Yuan comes from an upper middle class family in Chicago. His father Leon is a dentist; his mother Angela a homemaker who also serves as her husband’s business administrator. Christopher goes to college and then medical/dental school, the expectation being that he will join the family practice. On the surface, the life of the Yuan family seems placid, stable and normal.

Except that Angela and Leon have an increasingly empty, loveless marriage, both of them carrying old family baggage and expectations.

And except that Christopher is gay. He tells his parents and experiences almost immediate rejection. He returns to his friends, the people he believes accept him for what he is.  And his finds that acceptance is transient.

He turns to drugs, an integral part of the gay club culture he enmeshes himself in. And then he becomes a drug dealer, part of the drug sales and distribution system that apparently blankets the country.

Angela finds her way to faith. Never part of a church or religious tradition, she still manages to find her way, after coming close to suicide. She begins to spend an enormous amount of time on her knees. Praying. An unused shower stall in the Yuan home becomes her prayer room.

Christopher’s high-flying lasts for a time, and then he crashes, virtually overnight. Most of his friends abandon him. His parents don’t. Instead, despite of the gigantic mess he’s made of his life, his parents accept him and love him.

And just when you think the story has hit rock bottom, you find it hasn’t. It gets worse.

Out of a Far Country contains many stories, and many themes. Brokenness is everywhere. Even the “most lost” living the worst lives can be redeemed. Sin has consequences – in spite of redemption. Loving is more important that judging. Forgiveness is vital. God can do miraculous things with broken people.

All of those stories and themes belong to the rest of us as well. We may not deal drugs or live destructive, drug-fueled lifestyles, but we all know brokenness, the need for forgiveness, and the need for love.

The Yuan family is a living testimony for the rest of us.


Christopher Yuan’s web site.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

We call her name

She walks in Homer in a robe
of saffron; in Virgil she lies in a bed
of saffron. Her wonder intrigues
Shakespeare, and Tennyson,
even Thoreau watches her crisp
the pond’s edge. It takes a later time
to turn the dawn into darkness,
the light fractured and torn
into ragged shreds of memory.
Turning to the light as we call her name,
we hear only the echo 
of a terrible silence.

In Greek mythology, Aurora is the goddess of the dawn.

Illustration: Aurora, acrylic on wood panel by Mike Hale.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Good Reads

Another tragedy, and the name Aurora joins the name of Columbine. The online world reacts and responds immediately, and a poem by John Blase does what only poetry can do.

Yet amid the terrible pain, there is still beauty, and grace, and goodness. A little bit of it is here.


Safe Places” by Sarah Salter at Living Between the Lines.

The River Waves” by L.L. Barkat at Seedlings in Stone.

So I Stopped Eating” by Emily Wierenga via Shawn Smucker.

Darlin – I’m Dang Close” by Darlene at Simply Darlene.

An Open Letter to the Buried” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

Happy Birthday, Lord of the Rings” by Chris Yokel.

We Treat Them Like Lepers” by Michael Perkins at The Handwritten.

The Most Beautiful Gift” by Kimberlee Conway Ireton.


Morning at Great Pond” by Megan Willome.

Beauty Beyond Words, and Yet I Want them So Badly” by Jerry Barrett at Gerald the Writer.

Kingdom Poets: C.S. Lewis” by D.S. Martin for The Rabbit Room.

Whatever is convenient” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

Palm Reading” by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

Like a River” by Chris Galford at The Waking Den.

Royal Priesthood” by Chris Yokel.

Thinking” by Nancy Rosback at A Little Somethin’.

Building” by Betsy Brown for Curator Magazine.

20 July 2012” by John Blasé at The Beautiful Due.

Paintings and Photographs

Go On, Job, Bread & Water” by Jack Baumgartner at The School for the Transfer of Energy.

North Umpqua Study 3,” watermedia on Yupo by Randall David Tipton at Painter’s Process.

Wandering Westward: Moments of Intimacy” by J of India’s daughter-in-law at Neither Use Nor Ornament.

Real Life: The Summer and the Wild” by Kelly Sauer.

Corn at Sunrise” and “Coneflowers at Sunrise” by Tim Good at Good Photography.


Hero Worship 2” by My Bad Sheep


Shine on Us” by Josh Wilson (et al).

What Makes You Beautiful” by The Piano Guys.

Photograph: Tower of London by Vera Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.