Monday, February 28, 2011

Psalm of the Resident Alien

Alien in the midst,
called to be
a seasoning of salt,
a light purifying;
          yet hidden.

To be in, not of
this place, this field
of groaning, aching wheat
seeking its harvest;
          yet hidden.

This paradox,
this contradiction:
salt, light, in not of,
seeking, harvest yet
hidden, concealed,
safe in the hiding place
while moving unhidden:
your heart
your hands
your house
where wisdom is taught.

This poem is submitted for the Warrior Poet Circle, hosted by Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact. To see other submitted poems based on the prompt of “hidden in God,” please visit the site.

Photograph by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Food and Other Sacraments

Two more essays on communion are featured for this week’s discussion of The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God over at The High Calling. I should mention that our discussion has been led each week by Laura Boggess, one of the content editors at The High Calling and who blogs over at The Wellspring.

These two essays – by Hannah Faith Notess, managing editor of Seattle Pacific University’s Response Magazine, and Andre Dubus, one of America’s best short story writers until his death in 1999 – both originate in illness or disability. Notess’ brother had celiac disease (gluten intolerance) and Dubus suffered for years with infirmities resulting from being hit by a car when he was trying to help a stranded motorist. In both cases, communion is what it is – a remembrance of Christ, as he commanded – and a kind of restoration of body and soul, which is implicit in what communion is all about.

For a time, our own church offered only "regular" bread for communion, and then two kinds – regular and gluten-free. Now it’s all gluten-free, which simplifies things. The sharing together is the more important consideration, and if that means gluten-free, then that’s a good thing.

The Dubus essay, “On Charon’s Wharf,” is less directly about communion and more about the idea of sacrament. It’s a difficult essay to read, because there seems to be a profound awareness of mortality haunting it:

“As lovers we must have these sacraments, these actions which restore our focus, and therefore ourselves. For our lives are hurried and much too distracted, and one of the strangest and most dangerous of all distractions is this lethargy of self we suffer from, this part of ourselves that does not want to get out of bed and once out of bed does not want to dress and once dressed does not want to prepare breakfast and once fed does not want to work. And what does it want? Perhaps it wants nothing at all. It is a mystery, a lovely one because it is human, but it is also dangerous. Some days it does not want to love, and we yield to it, we drop into an abyss whose walls echo with strange dialogues…”

It is likely age, but lately I’ve been becoming more aware of time. I see an obituary in the newspaper, and I immediately add or subtract how many years the person was from my own age. I’ll pause and reread those for people in their late 50s or early 60s. It seems too soon. And of course what I’m doing is telling myself that it is too soon, too soon for me, because there are still things left to do. But there will always be things left to do.

I don’t know the abyss Dubus describes, but I know it exists. I can hear its echoes on the wind at times, or in the solitude of a hike in the woods.

Because I know it exists, I reach – much like Dubus – to sacraments, or things that seem like sacraments to me now but never really did before.

Familiar things, like a certain look on my wife’s face that makes me fall in love with her all over again.

New things, like the joyful laugh of my grandson.

And odd things, too, like a particular work of art seen in an unexpected way, or a glass of Norton wine from Augusta Winery in Missouri, or the blurred shape of a tree I see when I’m flying by on my bike. Or a photograph, or an old brick building from the early 20th century with ornate decorations, of which there are still an abundance in St. Louis.

I’m beginning to understand that my life is surrounded by sacraments I never noticed before.

To join the discussion and see links to other posts on the essays, please visit The High Calling.

A True Royal Story

I walk into this second-hand store,
second-hand when they actually
mean one slight cut above junk,
and just past the chairs
with ripped and ruined upholstery
is this dust-covered relic of youth.

I taught myself to type when I was 18,
it was June, because I had to know how
for journalism classes in the fall so I bought
an electric typewriter and
“Teach Yourself How to Type,”
an early birthday present.

I was a lousy teacher but I dutifully
sat for hours trying not to look
at the keys but I gave up, you know,
and turned hunt and peck
into a speed race for fingers
and I cheated and looked at all the keys.

I walk into Journalism 51; am overwhelmed
by a sea of manual typewriters, all
proudly bearing the name of Royal,
reigning in spite of the growing electric rebellion
of IBM Selectrics, Remingtons, Olivers,
Olivettis, Underwoods, and Smith-Coronas.

Insert yellow copy paper, learn
how to operate the carriage return
and teach your fingers how
to pound on keys like it was
some stress contest and it was stress,
no question about that.

Style error: automatic F;
spelling error: automatic F;
grammar error: automatic F;
punctuation error: automatic F;
all the while beating and slamming
the keys, Royal in their stubbornness.

And then this idiot of a teacher gives
a deadline assignment and starts
singing opera and performing
jumping jacks and using his desk
like a set of drums and how to work
with all this deliberate, focused insanity?

I look at this dust-covered Royal relic and
I don’t feel a tender fondness, exactly, but
more like profound thankfulness
for correctible spools of paper white-out
and the electricity that removed the pounding
from my fingers, still aching. I don't buy it.

This poem is submitted for One Shot Sunday sponsored by One Stop Poetry. To see other poems prompted by the photo, please visit the site.

Photograph by JackAZ Photography. Used with permission for One Stop Poetry.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Good Reads

More good stuff this week. And I’ve included a podcast for the first time.


Stone Crossings: No pain, no gain” review of the L.L. Barkat book by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers, and David’s “Don’t Waste This Moment.”

Leonardo DaVinci’s Resume” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

Love in the Pit” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

The Annoyed Dad” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

At My Father’s Feet” by M.L. Michaels at Chronicle of a Writer.

Apathy Kills the Soul” by Douglas Young.

Life As I Know It” and “Forgiveness – What a Gift” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Here and Back Again: A Southern Girl Comes Home” by Cassandra Frear at Moonboat CafĂ©.

Textures of Text: Worth the Sacrifice” by Sandra Heska King.

How to Reach Across the Quiet” by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

Freeze Frame” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting down with Jesus.

Whirlwind” by Doug Spurling at Spurling Silver.

No Less Precious” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

It’s Not All Bad” by Erin Kilmer at Together for Good.

Dying Sailors and a Valuable Lesson for Employees” by Sam Van Eman at New Breed of Advertisers.

"Work Isn't Supposed to be Fun Anyway" by Marcus Goodyear at Good Word Editing.


Post-Mount-Carmel Nosedive” by Monica Sharman at Know-Love-Obey God.

Sooth” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

"Untitled" by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

Who Knows? (Poetry with Photography Portraits)” by Adam Dustus.

Blood Meeting” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Sunday Sonnet #18” by Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don’t Eat Alone.

Combustibles” by Melissa at All the Words.

Slip Details” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

The Midnight Morning” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Certainties” by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

Everything new under the sun” by Brian Miller at WayStationOne.

Moments of Silence” by Lorenzo at Crowned With Laurels.

Hover” by Bradley Moore at And the Other Thing Is.

Choosing to see” by Jeanne Damoff at The View From Here.

Paintings and Photographs

A little somethin’ called words” by Casey Jane, via Nancy Rosback at Nance Marie.

Sunday” by Nancy Rosback at Nance Marie.

Lacy Bones” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

My Virtual Photography Exhibit – Be Bold” by Gordon McCreary at A Yankee’s Southern Exposure.

We Walked These Streets” by Amy Leigh Cutler.

Buying Spring” and “Quietus” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Magnolias,” watermedia on paper by Randall David Tipton.

Serendipity” by J of India at Neither Use nor Ornament.

New Paintings” by Paul Batch.

Videos and Podcasts

It’s Heeeeere!” by Jack Cookingham at Soulfari (Jay’s first podcast).

"Ephesians 1:3-14" by Seth Haines and friends.

Photograph: New Zealand Prison Plate by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Greg Darley's "Passion Is Not Enough"

The idea of having passion for what you do or want to be has assumed the status of legend and myth, especially in but not limited to business. Insert “passion” and “business” in the search bar at and you’ll see more than a thousand results.

Passion is big business these days – and we’re not talking about romantic passion. The idea is take your passion – and turn into a business, a mission, a life. Do what you’re passionate about. Live your passion.

Greg Darley, director for Backstage has come along in Passion Is Not Enough: 4 Elements to Change the World to inject some much needed sanity into this discussion of passion, especially as it relates to ministry and mission. No matter what you set your mind to do – a new business, writing, art, music, ministry, mission – passion is not enough, he says. It’s important, but “success,” however defined, requires far more than passion.

In fact, he says, it requires four things: calling, character, doctrine and commitment.

Darley structures the book like a basic, simple road map. It’s not so much a step-by-step guide or instruction book as it is a detailed overview, utilizing stories and examples (from the life of the author as well as the lives of others).

The writing is engaging, straightforward and fast-paced, making the work both a thought-provoking and easy read. And it’s full of common sense and wisdom, wisdom based on life. Though Biblically based, the book is written to appeal to a broad audience.

So if you have something in mind that you know will change the world, remember that passion is not enough. And remember to read this book first.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What happened on the hillside

I imagine a sunny but rather cool day, possibly early spring.

It is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry: he has been baptized; he has spent 40 days in the wilderness and then been tempted; he begins to preach in Galilee; he has called four disciples, Peter, Andrew, James and John; and he has healed the sick. Large crowds, some from as far away as Jerusalem, are following him to hear him speak.

Then something interesting happens, as Matthew tells the story. Jesus sees the crowds, and he goes up a mountainside and sits. His disciples come to him, and he begins to teach “them.” The implication is that the “them” is the disciples.

If that’s correct, then he sees the large crowds – and begins to teach the disciples with one of the most important sermons imaginable. But the crowds also hear him, because at the end of sermon the text says the crowds were “amazed” at his teaching, “because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” It was a message for his disciples that spilled over on to the multitudes.

And what did he teach?

The Sermon on the Mount is shot through with the idea of forgiveness, both implicitly and explicitly.

Blessed are the merciful.

First go and be reconciled to your brother.

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Let him have your cloak as well.

Go with him two miles.

Love your enemies.

Pray for those who persecute you.

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.

If you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.

There on that mountainside, Jesus speaks one of the most radical sermons ever preached. It is also a sermon he will live out as a ministry, a ministry of forgiveness and salvation, until it culminates on the side of another mount and in a tomb carved into rock and dirt.

To see other posts on forgiveness, please visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista.

Photograph: The traditional site of the Mount of Beatitudes, from Bible Places.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Sam Batterman's "Maximal Reserve"

Almost two years ago, I read an extraordinary techno-thriller called Wayback by Sam Batterman. In the novel, scientists had discovered a way to return to the time immediately prior to Noah’s ark. Fast-paced, full of science and action-packed. It reminded me of the novels of the late Michael Crichton. At the time, I wondered what kind of story could Batterman write that would equal Wayback.

With Maximal Reserve, he did it.

Phil Channing is a brand new college graduate who lands a job in Texas (his girlfriend’s hometown) with Axcess Energy’s Exploration Division. He’s been taken on a tour of an exploration project off the Atlantic coast of Africa, where there’s evidence of a large oil field, but of a very different kind – a field that will prove that petroleum originates from deep within the earth. The shallowest access to the field lies under the state of – Israel. It could transform Israel into a larger oil producer than Saudi Arabia , changing the geopolitics of the Middle East and the world.

Into this potentially explosive situation is added corrupt U.S. politicians, the Russian mafia, the Syrians seeking to strike a blow against Israel, an increasingly unbalanced scientist, Israel’s secret service Mossad – and a love story. It’s a lot to manage, and the author pulls it off.

Maximal Reserve is almost breathtaking to read, moving so fast that it’s hard to put down. Batterman takes the reader on a wild ride, with lots of bodies strewn along the way, abd ends in a cliffhanger beneath the desert floor near the Dead Sea.

The novel is full of scientific detail but it doesn’t overpower the story. It also explores what’s called “abiogenic theory” of the origin of petroleum, and then moves the theory into a credible fictional rendering. The novel’s bibliography of the science and theory behind it testify to the depth of research.

Well done, Mr. Batterman. So, what’s next?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Silence of the Crowds

                                     The most remarkable thing
about this house is
the somber silence,
the quiet always maintained,
always observed
no matter how large
the crowd inside.

She read “A Tale of Two Cities”
that first day, a story of men
seized with madness,
determined to destroy.

What did she read
on her last day here? Or
what did she live
on her last day here?

The silence of crowds
replicates the silence
of the eight who lived here
                                     for a time, lives
                                     constricted and contained
                                     within old storerooms
                                     full of hope and dust.

This poem is submitted for One Shot Wednesday hosted by One Stop Poetry. The links will be live at 4 p.m. Central time today.

Photograph: Anne Frank House by Essential Architecture.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Tears of Sacrifice

I saw the fire and the wood. But where is the lamb? I asked.

A moment’s silence. A silence that sounded loud.

God will provide the lamb, he said.

He tied my wrists and ankles with leather strips. Then he lifted me, and placed me on the wood.

I lay there, bound, not understanding that it was an altar until I saw the glint of sunlight reflected on the blade.

Father? I asked.

He said nothing.

I thought of the story of Abel. I don’t know why.

Then he looked up, an expression of almost-but-not-quite surprise on his face, as if he expected something that finally arrived.

He lifted me from the wood and cut the bindings.

There, he pointed. There is our lamb.

A young ram was caught in the thicket.

Father, I asked, were you going to kill me?

He nodded. Because God required it, he said. But then he provided the substitute, the sacrifice that would be pleasing.

I am an old man now. My eyes will soon close.

But of all of my life, what I remember most is how my father wept as the ram’s blood flowed.

This post is part of the One Word Blog Carnival, sponsored by Peter Pollock. To see more posts on sacrifice, please visit Peter’s site.

Illustration: Sacrifice of Isaac by Marc Chagall. Musee Nationaux Alpes-Maritimes (Nice).

The Bread and the Body

The three essays covered in our High Calling discussion this week on The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God each, directly or indirectly, deal with communion. Or the common elements, as Mary Kenagy Mitchell calls them. The Eucharist, says Alexander Schmemann. Soul food, says the poet Luci Shaw.

Coincidentally (if one believes in coincidences), I’ve been reading Luci Shaw’s What the Light Was Like:Poems. Included in the collection is this:


I’m not asking for quails for dinner
and, if they flew in my window, at mealtime,
in a torrent of wind, I would think
aggravation, not miracle.

Time is so multiple and fluid. If I lose a day
flying the Pacific and gain it back
returning, perhaps the prayer I offered
this morning at first light
was known and answered last week.

You never know what a simple request
will get you. So, no plea for birds
from heaven. Rather, I will commit myself
to this quotidian wilderness, watching for what
the wind may bring me next –
perhaps a minor wafer tasting like honey
that I can pick up with my fingers
and lay on my tongue to ease, for this day,
my hunger to know.

Manna. Bread. Something everyday common, says Mitchell. The Eucharist, a theological name for something simple. Food for the body and food for the soul.

It’s not by accident that Jesus used bread and wine as the elements he wanted his disciples to remember him by every time they ate. And they were to remember him not just occasionally but every time – as often as they ate the bread and drank the wine.

Do I think of Jesus every month when I take communion at church? Absolutely. Do I think of him every time I eat bread or drink wine? No.

But perhaps I’m missing something important. The body of Jesus – the church – is there together at communion. But is it also there when I eat my roll or sliced bread at dinner? Is his blood also there whenever I drink a glass a wine? Perhaps his message was less about “remember” and a lot more about “whenever,” that it is in the mundane, the everyday, the common elements of our lives where we are most apt to discover Jesus. Our lives are filled far more with the common and everyday and a lot less with the spectacular and mountaintop, and Jesus wants to be remembered and lived right where we are.

Many years ago, I was the family breadmaker. I made all kinds of bread -- white, whole wheat, rye, cornmeal, cheese and beer, cinnamon raisin, rolls, English muffins. And then other things came along, other demands on my time, and all that was left was the annual cranberry wreath bread I make at Christmas.

Until Saturday. I dug out a recipe for whole wheat bread, and got the ingredients together.

Mixed together, the results didn't look too promising.

                  But after a few minutes of kneading, things started looking better.

               While the whole wheat dough was rising, I got real ambitious and made brown soda bread.

The whole wheat dough rose like it was supposed to, became three loaves, allowed to rise again, and came out the oven.

                It cooled for a few minutes, and then I couldn't stand it. Time to taste.

It was a simple thing to do. Each step had its own story -- selecting the recipe, making sure all the ingredients were in the kitchen, mixing, kneading (I'd forgotten that whole wheat requires more strenuous kneading than white), rising, rolling out, shaping loaves for the pan, rising again, baking, the smell that permeates the house, the cooling, the slicing and the tasting (yes, it was good; heavy but good).

On Sunday, we had communion at church.

Like Luci Shaw, I committed myself to this "quotidian wilderness, watching what the wind may bring me next." The result was simple and plain -- three loaves of bread. Simple, daily bread. And somehow, I knew that here, too, was my Lord, working me like daily bread.

To see this week's discussion and links to other posts on the three essays in The Spirit of Food, please visit The High Calling.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Hard Times for the Empire

No more starships,
no more death stars,
the emperor dances his last waltz
waiting in the bread line.
I hocked my light saber long ago;
all that’s left
is this unemployed fiddle.
But, oh, can I play,
I can make you dance,
I can make you sing
a Skywalker Serenade,
a Princess Leia torch song,
an R2D2 squeaky pantomime.
Chewbacca croons wookie tunes;
Stormtroopers will work for food.
Shall I play for you my favorite,
Han Solo, can you spare a dime?
Times are hard when all that’s left is to play a song in the rain.

This poem is submitted for the One Shot Sunday photo prompt at One Stop Poetry. To see more poems, please visit the site. And may the force be with you.

Photograph: Darth Vader by JackAZ Photography. Used with permission for One Stop Poetry.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Good Reads

It was a great week. Offline, spring reared its beautiful if premature head in St. Louis. Online, all these posts showed up, including a return by my friend Justinian, a poet who blogs at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light. He’s been offline for a few months, taking care of serious things. And now he’s back.


"Sanctification, a Strange Dream, and the Human Condition" by Bob Spencer at Wilderness Fandango.

Reasoning and Faith” by Nancy Rosback at Nance Marie.

Editing My Leadership” by L.L. Barkat at Green Inventions Central.

The Tool that Cannot Fix” by Brock Henning at Lifesummit.

Marital Milestone” and “Dinner Venom” by Scott Couchenour at Serving Strong.

A Letter from Gilead” by Chaplain Mike at Internet Monk.

"Leave it in the crack" by Kely Breeze at Dangerous Breeze.

My Wood-Carved Valentine” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting down with Jesus.

Playdates: Trampoline” and "Baptism: Stone Crossings" by Laura Boggess at The Wellspring.

The Street Preacher” by Peter Faur.

The Best Conversation I Never Had” by Billy Coffey at What I Learned Today.

I’m So Sorry” by Marty Duane Scott at Scribing the Journey.

Sometimes Being a Novelist is Scary” by Athol Dickson for Novel Journey.

Paper and Ink” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

Faith and Growth” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

Dear God – A Letter from My Past” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

"Disbelief" by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

Meditate on God, Hope Comes from Him” by Dusty Rayburn at Reflections on Life as a Christian.


What’s Left Behind” by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality.

Like So Much Sand – Poetic Promise” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

Upon First Meeting” by Arron Palmer.

I Have Always Been Yellow” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Taliessen’s Dream of the Holy Rood,” “Secret Sins” and “Homesickness” by Justinian at Delight and Glory and Oddity and Light.

A child’s game” by Jim Schmotzer at Faithful Skeptic.

"American Dream" by Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper.

The Place of Nothing” by Karen Eck at Karenee Art.

Shell Game” by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

Allergies” by Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don’t Eat Alone.

Celebratory Blues” by Rob Kistner at Image & Verse.

Paintings and Photographs

An Assembly of Fishermen” and “An Assembly of Fisherman: Preparing Your Boat” by J of India at Neither Use nor Ornament.

Foothills Storm,” oil on paper, and “Fog on Mt. Talbot,” oil on canvas by Randall David Tipton.

Rietveld Landscape/Atalier di Lyon Bunker 599” at Design Bloom (hat tip to M. Venema at Art News).

Healing Pages” by Kathleen Overby at Almost Paradisical.

What a Hoot,” “Imprints” and “Two Pennies” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.

Wherever You Go” by A Simple Country Girl at Aspire to Lead a Quiet Life.

Wings” by Nancy Rosback at Nance Marie.

No Words Needed” by Harriett Gillham at The Other Side of the Mountain.

Seasons” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Photograph: Free Moles, You Dig by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Cynthia Ruchti's "They Almost Always Come Home"

A husband disappears while on a solo canoe trip in the Canadian wilderness.

A wife, already considering divorce, believes he may have left her. Her anger is fed by the loss of their daughter three years before, a loss she blames her husband for.

Then his car is found. It’s been stolen.

That’s the basic introductory framework to Cynthia Ruchti’s They Almost Always Come Home. The Holden family sounds achingly familiar, falling apart in slow motion. Greg Holden, for most of the book, is seen only through the eyes of his wife, as her submerged anger begins to break into the open.

Libby and her best friend Jen join Greg’s father Frank in an expedition to retrace Greg’s path, knowing full well there could be a decomposing body at the end of their journey.

Ruchti does a masterful job on at least two levels. First, with the descriptions and narrative of the journey into the wilderness, she has the reader right there paddling in the canoe and carrying the boats and supplies over portages. Second, she takes a distinctly unlikeable heroine and transforms her from angry wife to discovering that what she may have lost is irreplaceable, how she has turned away from God, and how much she herself is to blame for the feelings she has towards her husband.

It’s a tightly written, well constructed story, gradually pulling back the curtains this family has drawn over its grief and fracturing. And then – the healing begins. And what has to be healed first is the wilderness of the soul.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

An Interview with Maureen Doallas

I had the pleasure of interviewing my online friend Maureen Doallas about her new book of poetry, Neruda’s Memoirs: Poems. Of course, I get carried away when I’m talking about something I really like or mildly/wildly enthusiastic about. So the interview was fairly thorough, and Maureen was very gracious.

Part of the interview can also be read at The High Calling, and part of it at TweetSpeak Poetry.

You’ve dedicated the book to your late brother, Patrick.

Yes. I dedicated the poems to him. As I say on the Acknowledgments page, it was because of him that I took up poetry-writing again. I wrote more than 100 poems about experiencing the disease that took his life. Some of those poems were shared at the NPR OurCancer blog (originally My Cancer), and the people there also had a lot to do with my continuing to write.

Many of these poems come from family experiences -- your brother and father, your son. These poems seem to be a way of both working through family experiences and expressing them, "naming" them or naming the experiences, if you will. A poem like "Twenty-Two," for example, seems to be about a young man's coming of age -- but even more about a mother's realization of the young man coming of age. And yet that's never explicitly stated.

"Twenty-Two" I specifically wrote for my son's 22nd birthday. I also wrote one for his milestone 21st. His birthday came three months after his graduation from NYU last year, something that choked me up quite a bit. There are facts in that poem that are about him - his tats, for example, and the longboard he uses to get around. That feeling of needing to let go, of letting go but knowing there's always connection: I think that's universal among those of us who are parents. But I can't say I tried for that latter effect. I'm not usually conscious of that.

I think the best poems don't explicate. They don't need to. And in the editing for this collection, I learned how much better poems can be when they stay a bit open and don't conclude.

Many of your poems reflect your strong interest in the arts, and that's "the arts" is the broadest sense -- painting, music, literature. It's almost as if you're using poetry to understand and then explicate the work of art at hand -- "Portrait by Matisse" is an example; "The Exile" is about Frederic Chopin and is a poetic look at his life (and, I have to say, it is one of my personal favorites in the collection, but then I have a lot of personal favorites in this collection).

I wouldn’t say I'm writing such poems to understand or explicate their subjects. I view the poems you mention more as responses - to what a painting recalled to me or how it made me feel, to how I viewed a historical event I'd read about or researched. For me there's always a personal connection of some kind, but I've learned not to play that out so personally via the poem that the poem has no meaning for someone reading it.

Several of the poems are about current events -- 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, "Summer Headlines." This suggests that you believe poets have a part to play in helping interpret and understanding these news events.

As you know, I have a piece in the charity anthology Oil and Water...and Other Things That Don't Mix, a compilation of prose and poetry that responds to a theme of conflict broadly and to the Gulf oil spill specifically. In a Meet the Authors post for the anthology's blog, I wrote, "As writers, our most powerful actions sometimes are simply to bear witness through words, to raise our voices to foster awareness, to call out those responsible, to tell our stories to leave an impression and incite others to respond."

Poetry, just like photography or a painting or a news article, can be a way to document, to make a record.

I do write of such events to make sense of them but I also take them as subjects because they're fascinating and a challenge. In the case of the poem for the anthology, the event was so immense and its implications and effects so profound that I had to focus on a particular aspect of it, and what moved me to write were all the images of what was happening to the wildlife.

You've organized the poems in four sections -- Enter, Listen, Exit, Remember. Was this the poet's idea or the editor's? Whoever's idea it was, it works beautifully.

The press has an interesting style, which is to group poems in sections and to head up each section with a short essay that is regional or life-stage. I was not aware of the sections or their names until late in the publishing cycle. I wrote the essays without knowing which poems had been selected; however, I was pleased that they seemed to go well with the section names and subsequent selection of poems. I tried to write the essays with a view to providing a bit of personal information that is also connected with the subject matter of some of the poems generally.

Tell us about the editorial process of creating the book. How did you decide what poems to submit?

I was invited to submit as many poems as might be available for consideration for a collection of 50 to 80 poems. I did withhold some work but sent to my editor well over 150 poems, the majority written in the last two years. I think my editor appreciated having so many poems from which to choose.

My editor and publisher made the selection decision and shaped the overall organization. Last month, I received the compilation of selections with their line edits, and I sent back responses and additional suggestions, so there was exchange of information about some of the poems and ultimate accord about the edits. Once the major work on the manuscript was completed, I worked exclusively with the publisher on technical details (cover, proofs, etc.). I could not have asked for a better editor or publisher. The entire experience of working with both editor and publisher was wonderful.

How was the poem "Neruda's Memoirs" chosen to be the title poem?

The collection's title is taken from one the poems. It's one of my few "old" poems I've kept. It was my response to having read a lot of Neruda's poetry. The publisher loves it, and I like it a lot, too. A friend has created a beautiful video using it.

The cover art, "The Assumption of the Virgin" by Randall David Tipton, is marvelous. How was that particular piece chosen for the cover?

As soon as Randall sent me the image, I knew that would be the one I'd select. And the publisher early on had mentioned seeing the cover as "red." The image was perfect for that. I forwarded it and three other images to the publisher with my priority of choice. We happened to be in sync on our No. 1 choices. Once I saw the mock-up I would have been sore-put to consider anything else. And I think the publisher felt the same way. By the way, a limited edition of the print is available via the artist’s web site.


Maureen talks more about the poems and her background at The High Calling.

She also discusses her background and training at TweetSpeak Poetry.

My review of Neruda's Memoirs at TweetSpeak Poetry.

Diane Walker, a friend of Maureen’s, reads the title poem in a video she created for the book.

The Assumption of the Virgin by Randall David Tipton is the art used for the cover of Neruda’s Memoirs. (It’s also available as a limited edition print.)

Maureen blogs at Writing Without Paper.

Thursday, Pleasantly Disturbed

It’s time for another edition of Pleasantly Disturbed Thursdays, led by the totally fearless Marty Duane Scott, who, oddly enough, has been off sitting in some chair lately (or, more precisely, not sitting in a chair).

Most of my family and friends would tell you that I am not the outdoorsman type. I don’t hunt. I don’t fish (my father hated fishing so we never went). I do remember camping – I believe it was right after I graduated from high school. I do like to hike and bike (a rhyme!), but I’m not one for an extended stay in the wilderness or woods. Say, longer than three or four hours.

So I’m surprised that I’ve enjoyed reading Cynthia Ruchti’s They Almost Always Come Home. Virtually the entire novel is set in the Canadian wilderness, where bathrooms are holes behind logs and you can take a bath in the stream or lake. It’s a story about a husband who disappears on a solo trip in the wilderness, and his father, his wife and her best friend go looking for him. It’s a great story, and I’m hoping to have the review posted tomorrow.

My current reading is Sam Batterman’s new novel Maximal Reserve. His first novel, Wayback, is a great read, and this one is turning out to be just as good if not better. I’m amazed at the science and technology details he uses in his books – and how he doesn’t choke you with them. I can barely put the book down.

Late last year, I read The Apple Trees at Olema, a new book of poetry by Robert Hass. Hass has some considerable standing the poetry community. He’s won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, among a lot of other awards. He’s helped Czeslaw Milosz translate numerous volumes of poetry from the Czech. He is a name.

I liked it, although I have a tendency to get uncomfortable when profanity is used a lot, which it was in a few of the poems. But Hass is a great storyteller in his poems, and there were many fine ones and lots of good ones, and overall the collection is well worth one’s time (and money). Just as I finished, the new issue of Poetry arrived. Included it in was a scathing review of the Hass book. And I mean scathing. It was so ugly that I wondered if I had read an entirely different book. The next issue of Poetry contained a number of letters attacking the reviewer. And then the following issue had a letter attacking the attackers.


I stopped reading at that point. So a little literary controversy spices things up. But whatever else you want to call it, cruelty is ugly. So is meanness, especially when it’s cloaked in literary criticism.

On a happier note, plans are well underway for my grandson’s first birthday next month. Yes, he will be one year old. He was a late crawler (he could crawl backward just fine), but learn to crawl he did, and the next day crawled up the stairs in our house (supervised). We’re all battening down the hatches.

To see more Pleasantly Disturbed Thursday posts, please visit Helen over at Random Musings. Marty Duane Scott is either on vacation or still trying to sit in that chair.

Photograph: Cameron and his dad Travis by his mother Stephanie. Swiped shamelessly off of Facebook. Oh, wait, I mean used with permission.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

He Sent Me a Valentine

I was sitting on top of my world. And it was misery.

Toward the end of my freshman year in college at LSU, I set certain goals, things I would achieve by the time I graduated.

I would be something – something important – on the college newspaper.

I would be elected to the national leadership fraternity.

I would be something big in my fraternity.

I would be named to Who’s Who.

And I would be doing lots of stuff – fraternity parties, dating, activities, football games. And reading great books.

I was going to have it all.

And I did. By the middle of my senior year, I had ticked off everything on the list. Everything. I had been president of my social fraternity my junior year. I was named to the leadership fraternity. Who’s Who. And managing editor of the school paper – the power position, responsible for everything except the editorial page, supervising 30+ reporters, six editors and three photographers.

I was at the pinnacle of my college career. And I was miserable.

I had been trying to fill a hole in my soul with achievements, recognitions, honors and awards. Only after I got did I see how empty and meaningless they were. Everything was turning to ashes.

I buried myself in work at the paper. Work numbed the pain. But it wasn’t enough. I was crashing, and I knew it. Everything I thought was important had turned out not to be.

And then I was sent a valentine. A two-part valentine.

Part 1 was one of my new reporters. She had requested two beats to cover – student government and religion. Religion? What kind of journalist would request religion as a beat? But, hey, no problem – if she wanted religion, she could have it (and no one else asked for it). The news reporting instructor told me she was one of the top four students in his classes, so she got the student government beat as well. She was the one who told me about Part 2.

Part 2 was a speaker coming to campus. Josh McDowell was an evangelist and apologist (Evidence That Demands a Verdict) with Campus Crusade for Christ. For two or three weeks ahead of his arrival, the campus chapter of CCC publicized his upcoming lectures on “Maximum Sex.” Signs all over the campus heralded “Josh is Coming.” Since most students didn’t know who Josh was, this created all kinds of buzz.

For several days, I had been talking with people working on his appearances. And I found myself becoming increasingly intrigued and, possibly, interested. He spoke for three consecutive nights. The first night, prior to his talk, he had dinner at my fraternity house, and several people made sure I was introduced to him. When I was introduced as the managing editor of the paper, his first words to me were memorable.

“Will there be a story in the paper tomorrow?”

I got it. I was a tool to be used. Fine. So this was what all the hoopla was about. Just another salesman. Fine.

He spoke that night to 5,000 people, one of the biggest audiences for a lecture in LSU’s history. I didn’t go. I told everyone I had to work at the paper. Much to my chagrin, it looked like it would have to take the top place on the front page. But then came the news – President Johnson had just died. We went into overdrive to get stories and illustrations done by deadline. The story on Josh McDowell did make the front page – and I had to argue with my copy editors about it. They didn’t want the story in the paper at all.

The next night, President Nixon announced the end to the Vietnam War. Josh got bumped to the bottom half of the front page again. The third lecture made the front page again, but by then it was old news.

Several days later, I was still fuming over the question McDowell had asked at dinner. Friends arranged for me to meet with the campus director of Campus Crusade. So on Jan. 26, 1973, at about 8 p.m., I met him outside the classroom they used for Bible study. We talked for well over an hour (if you want to see a photo of the classroom, you can click here). I learned that scores of people had been praying for me before, during and even after the lectures. I learned a lot more than that, too.

Like what all of this was really about.

At about 9:30, I prayed. It was done.

That night, the director gave me a copy of the Living Bible (I didn’t have one in my apartment and I hadn't read anything from the Bible in six years). He inscribed it with a verse.

Philippians 1:6: He who began a good work in you will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus.

And, by the way, I ended up marrying Part 1 of the valentine.

To read more posts on faith and love, or what you’re discovering about God’s love for you, please visit Bonnie Gray at Faith Barista. The links will be live Thursday morning.

Photograph: Pete Maravich Assembly Center by LSU sportsNet, LSU Athletic Publications. This is where Josh McDowell spoke in 1973.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Can You Do Your Job Too Well?

One day on a late Friday afternoon I was called into my boss’s office. There had been a reorganization of my area, and all the teams had been given new functions (and headcount!). My peers and I were finding out one-by-one what our new assignments were going to be.

But it didn't turn out quite the way I expected.

To read more of the story, please visit The High Calling.

Romance for Flute and Piano

Emerging from soundlessness,
quiet pools, small eddies,
tiny swirls of motion
dance, slow, stand.
A single note of perfection
holds for an extended moment,
a shining, crystallized rivulet
of sound, and then
the music flows
again into silence.

Last week, my wife and I attended a program at The Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis called “French Impressions,” a group of selections by Jacques Ibert, Claude Debussy, Lili Boulanger, Camile Saint-Saens and Carlos Salzedo. Only four instruments were played – flute, harp, viola and piano. The Sheldon is an old building, well maintained, with one of the most acoustically perfect auditoriums in the country. Musicians of all kinds love performing there because the sound is wonderful. (There’s also an art gallery connected to the theatre, with the paintings of Max Lazarus currently the main exhibit.)

The selection played before the intermission was "Romance for Flute and Piano" by Saint-Saens. The musicians were Mark Sparks on flute and Peter Henderson on piano. It was stunning. When the lights came up for intermission, I sat there, staring at the stage, and then scribbled the poem above on the back of a program insert.

You can hear the music by clicking on the link below (it's a university recital, not the one at the Sheldon).

This poem is submitted for One Shot Wednesday, hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see other poems, please visit the site. The links will be live at 4 p.m. Central time today.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Heart psalm

A shy glance,
a small smile:
my heart is strung.

A quiet word,
a warming touch:
my heart is strung.

A heart is wrapped,
enveloped, tied,
willingly bound
in living oneness,
intimate silence,
outpost of heaven.

A tender look,
a sparkling eye:
my heart is strung.

This poem is submitted for today’s Warrior Poets Circle over at Jason Stayszen’s place, where the prompt is “heartstrings.” To see more poems based on the prompt, please visit Connecting to Impact.

The poem is for my wife Janet.

Photograph: Blood Red Hearts by Michael Meilen via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

I Was a Vegan and Didn't Know It

This week at The High Calling, our discussion of The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God covers three essays, one by Caroline Langston a former “Lapsed Southern Baptist” turned hyper-Presbyterian-turned Eastern Orthodox on fasting in India (I won’t attempt to unscramble all that); one by Suzanne Wolfe, editor of Image Journal, who writes about her eating disorder and her grandfather; and one by Thomas Maltman, who writes about a "famine" held at his church.

The mention of a grandfather was all it took. (And she tells a great story, by the way.) I veered from the serious, and these are all rather serious essays.

As a child, I would spend a week with my paternal grandmother in Shreveport. Those are some of my best memories of childhood, in fact. I’d either be driven by my parents from home in New Orleans (then about a six-hour ride) and fly home (on a real airplane!), or fly to Shreveport and then my parents would come pick me up after a week. I did this from the time I was seven to when I was about 14.

Those weeks with Gram were wonderful. We’d tool around Shreveport in her old Ford (with running boards) and inevitably the car would break down, usually in the “wrong” part of town. I’d accompany her on her “visits” to other elderly ladies, and they were always very formal things, with each of the ladies using the “Mrs.” to address the other. “Mrs. Young, would you care for more coffee?” “I do believe I would, Mrs. King.”

And something was always going on at her church, a short block from her house. It might be a revival, an ice cream social, a special concert (my grandmother sang solos and played the piano) or a picnic, but there was always something.

My father’s oldest sister and brother-in-law lived directly across the street from my grandmother (this was the aunt who made the heavenly biscuits, the recipe for which went with her to heaven). And in their backyard, at the very back of the deep lot, was the largest vegetable garden I had ever seen. My uncle was retired, and he loved growing vegetables. He also loved sitting with his rifle on the back porch and shooting the neighbor’s cats, but that’s another story. (They did have a lot of cats; they were also his oldest son’s in-laws.)

That vegetable garden was, to my child’s eyes, huge. Especially when, in the early evening when it was cooler but still daylight, we were all expected to “work the garden.”

That garden had everything: corn, radishes, several kinds of beans, tomatoes, squash, bell peppers, pumpkins, new potatoes, herbs, even a rather large grapevine. The four of us – my aunt, uncle, grandmother and me – would assemble after dinner. My uncle would give us our assignments and distribute any tools needed. I usually had to “pick” something – tomatoes or beans. Once I had the privilege of digging up the new potatoes.

When we were finished, my grandmother would be provided with a supply of fresh vegetables, and I’d carry the filled bushel basket back across the street.

Since something was always being harvested, we always had plenty of fresh, homegrown vegetables.

Every day, we would eat lunch with my aunt and uncle. And vegetables graced the table. Creamed corn. Sliced radishes. Cooked squash that I wouldn’t eat. Sliced tomatoes. Green beans. Snap beans. Lima beans. New potatoes in cream sauce. When the harvest was especially bountiful, we have fresh vegetables for both lunch and dinner.

But no meat.

The first few times I sat for lunch in my aunt’s kitchen, I was always looking around for the meat. After all, that’s what we had at every meal in New Orleans. But I was far too polite to ask. I decided that someone had forgotten the meat, and they would eventually remember.

But they didn’t remember. We ate vegetables. Lots of vegetables. For a week a year, I was a vegan and didn’t know it.

My aunt would notice me looking around, and usually pass another bowl of vegetables, thinking I was especially hungry. One summer she finally figured out what I was looking for, and she made sure from then on there was plenty of it available for lunch. After all, she said, she knew what people from New Orleans liked to eat.

And out would come a big steaming bowl of – rice.

To see more posts on the spirit of Food, please visit The High Calling.

Photograph: Harvest and Preserves by Kim Newberg via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Portal of Rock and Stone

Looking out:
Stares through to beyond
field, hill, history
of possibility, hope
breaking past the confines
of a life, of lives.

Looking in:
Peers through sunlight into
mind, heart soul
through ruined lens
of wood and rock
to interior rooms,
now grass-carpeted.

Looking at:
Observes the painting
displayed on a wall of light
designed, imagined
as future, as past
the eye’s landscape
beckoning, retreating.

This poem is submitted for One Shot Sunday hosted by One Stop Poetry. To see additional poems (and some spectacular photographs), please visit the site.

Photograph by Sean McCormick for One Stop Poetry. Used with permission.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Family: Guest Post by Jason Bourne


By Jason Bourne

Always there
More love than you can imagine
Loyal to the extreme
Yes, sometimes friends are the BEST kind of family!!

Last week, through Lesley Moon at Moondustwriter, I was introduced to Jason Bourne, who blogs at Jason’s Spinal Bifida Journey. We got to talking via email and Twitter, and soon I had a guest post at Jason’s place and he sent me the guest post above.

As you can tell, Jason likes acrostics. He also blogs about his journey with spinal bifida.

Jason’s a remarkable young man. He works as a writer and photographer for the city of Marietta, Georgia. He writes and speaks with a sweet, pure heart.

Check out his blog. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Photograph: Late 19th Century Family by John Davis via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Saturday Good Reads

I don’t always include videos, but this week I ran across three really good ones: Kenneth Branagh reading a sonnet by Shakespeare; a tribute to Ruth Bell Graham that is incredibly moving; and the reading of a poem (1837) by Thomas Hood.

And then’s there’s all the other good stuff.


When It Was, Was Football (And the Writing on the Wall)” by Greg Sullivan at Sippican Cottage.

The Last Words Spoken” by Marty Duane Scott at Scribing the Journey.

Flight” and “Rolling Coins” by Michelle DeRusha at Graceful.

The Pure in Heart” by Jeanne Damoff at The View From Here.

The Magnitude of So” by Jennifer Dukes-Lee at Getting down with Jesus.

Dream a Little Dream with Me” by David Rupert at Red-Letter Believers.

Running the Race” by Tim Challies at Informing the Reforming.

Playing with Stones” by Sandra Heska King.

And Then They Grow Up” by L.E. Fiore at Salt-Rain Tidings.

I’m the Red Power Ranger” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

Falling Rocks” by Billy Coffey.

Poetry Out Loud” by Harriett Gillham at The Other Side of the Mountain.

The Mess of Me” and “The Holding” by Kelly Sauer at A Restless Heart.

In Praise of Marriage as Spiritual Therapy” by Bradley Moore at Shrinking the Camel.

Now I Know” by John BlasĂ© at The Dirty Shame.

God vs. the Weather Channel” by Deidra Riggs at Jumping Tandem.


Dear Luci” and "Among Thorns" by Nancy Rosback at Nance Marie.

Woman on a Chair (A Study in Black)" and “Where I Walk” by B.K. McKenzie at Signed…BKM.

Lassen Peak” by K. Duane Carter at Songs from the River.

Love is the Drum” by Milton Brasher-Cunningham at Don’t Eat Alone.

Manhattan Progression” by Steven Marty Grant at Urbanality.

You Overwhelm” by Michael Perkins at Untitled.

And oil keeps floating by” by Jerry Barrett at Under the Door Frame.

Tendered Arms” by Louise Gallagher at Recover Your Joy.

Poetry Pilgrimage” by Jay Cookingham at Soulfari.

Early Valentine’s Day Poem” by Jason Bourne ay Jason Bourne’s Spinal Bifida Journey.

Paintings and Photographs

The Dawn” by Jessica McGuire at Jezamama.

Invisible” by Susan Etole at Just…A Moment.


Actor Kenneth Branagh reads Sonnet 30 by William Shakespeare.

Give Me Jesus,” a tribute to Ruth Bell Graham (via Justin Taylor at Between Two Worlds).

I Remember, I Remember, poem by Thomas Hood (1837),” text and video via Sherry Early at Semicolon.

Photograph: Puff Dandy by Nancy Rosback. Used with permission.