The Smell of Black Mold

Natural Cut Fries with Sea Salt Close

By John Bryant

I write in order that the ornery old bastard and toothless schizophrenic might be more welcome in my life. The man who calls three times a day to give voice to his shattered mind.

I met him at Advanced Autoparts. I’d bought a brake light, put the new one in, was about to step into my truck. Then I heard a kind of rustling sound just loud enough to make me wonder if someone was talking to me.

I turned and saw him, this old man fifty yards off in a busted wheelchair he’d tell me later he’d won in a fight, talking slowly and softly to me as if I was inches from his soft beard.

He pulled himself with tiny feet, unable to push with the hands he kept in his lap because, he said, his fingers were warped from gout and fights. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Homily”

7810908352_a8d1938997_zLast Sunday I was trying to decide whether to go church or take a walk along the river on a beautiful summer day in my corner of northwestern Washington. Some days I have time to do both and some days, for some justifiable reason, I do neither. The poem “Homily” by Todd Davis is both beautiful and deceptively stirring and particularly useful to me when faced with this decision. He writes, “I have been thinking about the God/ I pray to with no lasting effect and note the effortless work/ the stream does as it feeds these bushes.” In this poem, Davis is commenting on the word according to Walt Whitman—the epigraph being a quote from “I Sing the Body Electric” published in the original edition of Leaves of Grass in 1855. While Whitman’s poem explores the complex connection between body and soul, this poem goes one step further in shrewdly observing how our deepest ecologies can provide both poetic inspiration as well as guidance on how to live well, and lovingly. Nature as much a spiritual teacher as the “hand in white robes.” Bird droppings as sacred text. Handfuls of clover as offerings. The imagery Davis provides as evidence, in this relatively short prose-like poem, is convincing. However, he concedes, “I believe,/ despite my unbelief.” Despite the prophetic eloquence of Whitman, our bodies remain part of a larger and more mysterious whole where we learn to accept “the uncertainty of air/above our heads.” The question of Sundays is a perpetual one for me, but with the help of Davis’ “Homily” I will remember that answers can be found everywhere, all the time.
[Read more…]

Florence Foster Jenkins, Holy Fool

By Asher Gelzer-Govatos

florence-foster-jenkins-2016-meryl-streepIn many respects the new film Florence Foster Jenkins takes a paint by numbers approach to its genre—the classic biopic. It features a meaty role for a star (Meryl Streep), designed to play well to Oscar voters in the next awards cycle. It gets a lot of mileage—comic and dramatic—out of contemporary differences with its chosen time period (1940s New York). And of course it follows a well-worn dramatic arc: historical figure faces personal and professional tragedy, falls to a low point, then overcomes through the power of the human spirit.

In one very important respect, however, Florence Foster Jenkins stands out: its choice of subject. Unlike the typical biopic the film does not focus on someone of extraordinary ability or historical significance. Instead it examines the final days of a woman more notorious than famous. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “More Strange”

angelThis poem coaxes me to inhabit a story I’ve heard many times, and makes it astonishingly new, summoning me with the urgency of the second-person perspective and the half-answered question of the title. It’s a poem that asks a lot of its reader—nothing less than to experience a mother’s grief at the loss of her son—and yet offers so much in return, in the short space of five stanzas. Maybe because I am a mother, but certainly because of the poet’s skillful shifting of imagery and energy, I feel the weight of this poem grow heavier with each stanza as it moves further from the flutter of the angel’s wings in the opening line—and inexorably toward the cross. I love the risk and humanness of this poem: how the speaker registers everything that happens through her body, how the final lines so powerfully conflate the bodies of mother and son, speaker and reader.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin [Read more…]

Attending to the Body, Part II

Attending to the body part twoContinued from yesterday.

The following is excerpted from Attending Others: A Doctor’s Education in Bodies and Words, a new memoir by Brian Volck.

In the mountain clinics of rural Honduras, where every medicine and piece of equipment arrives by pickup or is carried on our backs, there’s no way to bring all we want or need. Before heading out, we listen to the locals, ask doctors who’ve been before, and assemble our materials accordingly.

Tylenol and Motrin, vitamins and antibiotics, soaps and toothbrushes are stuffed into plastic bags and shoved into backpacks. We make room for a scale, thermometer, paper and pens, as well as personal medical equipment: stethoscopes, flashlights, blood pressure cuffs.

Whatever else comes along is the result of an educated guess. [Read more…]