Poetry Friday: “After” by Marjorie Stelmach

by Rin Johnson on flickrGrief is a state of being that almost defies articulation. When you’re in it, it consumes and seems present in everything. Marjorie Stelmach focuses the lens of this poem on small scenes from the natural world—frames at once ordinary and suffused with loss, as befits the claustrophobia of mourning. The speaker here admits to wanting out, to feeling done-in by sadness— “Today, the last thing I would wish / is another emblem of grit and continuance”—and yet each effort to observe something outside the self becomes an act of hope and faith. I love the gaps in this poem. I’ve read it multiple times and suspect it hasn’t finished telling me all of its secrets. I’m struck by how each of these images so tenderly reflect the mystery of human suffering: not even a willow tree can escape “a keening that leaves it chastened, / loose-limbed, compliant.” God feels far away, yet so close, in the “available healing” of creation described here so beautifully.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin [Read more…]

A Conversation with Claire Holley

This post originally appeared as a web-exclusive interview accompanying Image journal issue 58.

claire1Mary Kenagy Mitchell for Image: You’ve written in our new issue about balancing songwriting with being a mother. What does your son think of your music? Does he come hear you play?

 Claire Holley: Well, his preferences seem to change a lot. When he was one or two years old, his gut reactions to songs were helpful to me: he might fall asleep, smile big, become animated, or he might be uninterested or fidgety. This last response might tell me that a song wasn’t as strong. I seem to remember one time he heard my song, “Wedding Day” and looked out the window reflectively, then asked to hear it again. But it’s risky, I suppose, to trust someone under five about all your material. [Read more…]

The Crazy Sex Lady at the Solitary Banquet

bacon by cookbookman17 on flickr“The crazy sex ladies are coming to school today,” said my oldest. “We’re missing it.”

“Good,” I said. I was driving the kids to the middle school an hour into their first period class. A glitch in the family routine over the past twenty-four hours prevented any of the three alarm clocks in the house from going off. We all overslept that morning, which must have been a mercy of God, because I’d been wondering what to do about the crazy sex ladies for a long time.

I went through training over the summer to become a crazy sex lady, to teach abstinence in public school.

It seemed, at first, like a good fit for me. But something became clear to me after going through the training (though I couldn’t quite pinpoint the problem at the time): attempting to instill an elevated concept of sexual purity without a corresponding concept of grace is just as dangerous as teaching that “anything goes.” [Read more…]

Getting Close to You, God: A Meditation During the Month of Elul

by-david-bergin-emmett-and-elliott-on-flickr“You are my light and my help / Whom should I fear?” Thus begins Norman Fischer’s Zen-inspired translation of Psalm 27.

Right now, at this very moment, Shabbat morning, the 14th of Elul, 5776; Sept. 17, 2016, these verses don’t resonate with me. Fear: yes, I am afraid, afraid, at the moment, that I won’t finish this essay by the deadline, two days from now, for my next contribution to “Good Letters.”

Whom do I fear? The “Good Letters” editor, a kind woman and talented writer who generously works with a group of writers for the blog? The editor-in-chief of Image, the extraordinary journal that is at the heart of an equally extraordinary community of writers, artists, musicians whose work engages, one way or another, ultimate questions of “art, faith, and mystery”?

What about the Divine, YHVH, whose commandment to observe the Shabbat I am breaking by writing this piece this morning, is that who I fear? Or is it some internal judge who took up residence within me, probably so early in my life that I can’t remember when. [Read more…]

Looking for a Good Laugh

audienceIn his collection of delightfully reflective and paradoxical mini-stories, Espejos (Mirrors), Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano includes a sequence on jokes and laughter in various ancient cultures. In one of these reflections he refers to Jesus, “of whom the evangelists record not a single laugh.” Then soon Galeano takes the entire Bible to task, as “a book in which no one ever laughs at all.”

This isn’t quite true. Sarah laughed when the angel told Abraham that in her old age Sarah would bear a son (Gen. 18:12). But this laugh of Sarah’s doesn’t express joy; rather, it’s a laugh of almost scornful disbelief. Sarah’s second laugh a year later is joyful though. Having indeed borne a son, she says “God has brought laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh with me” (Gen. 21:6).

There’s other laughter in the Bible, too. Jesus isn’t explicitly shown to laugh, but he enjoys many communal meals at which there must have been good fellowship. The explicit laughs in the rest of the Bible are a mixed bag. In many, the laughter is looked down upon. [Read more…]


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