Impounded by Poetry

By Cathy Warner

Salmon LeapingAfter one glass of wine, one poetry reading, and two hours, my bill totaled $452.21, and I hadn’t even bought Paul Nelson’s book.

At least the tow truck driver was apologetic. “I waited as long as I could before I hooked up your car. I just got here ten minutes before you.”

I could tell he thought the sort of person who drove a fifteen-year-old minivan with a Coexist bumper sticker was the sort of person who’d only park in a posted We Tow Unauthorized Vehicles lot in an emergency. So he had dawdled, waiting for me to come running, shouting “wait!” offering a profuse apology and compelling excuse (a flight, a funeral, brain surgery), whereupon he could issue a warning and return to his dinner.

But there I was, a willful and flagrant violator, who’d parked her car at 7 p.m., and hadn’t returned until nine.

My excuse was flimsy: I was late; the restaurant lot and street parking were full; I didn’t know where else to park. [Read more…]

Grief and the Weight of Glory

ClotheslineThe wind whips through the quilts and sheets on our clothesline, cracking now and then like a benign thunderclap, tugging at the clothespins I inherited from my grandmother’s childhood farm. My daughter and I watch them as we swing together on the playset her father built a few seasons ago, before she was born.

This spring morning my father calls to tell me that his mother, my grandmother, who passed down those clothespins, has fallen asleep.

“Do you mean she died?” I say, knowing the answer but wanting him to say it clearly.

“Yes.”

We don’t say much after that. It’s not as if this was unexpected. She is ninety-three and has been dying slowly since her kidneys failed months ago. But there is a finality to it, my last grandparent, the last connection to another generation, as if slowly, my family, my history, my memories are being whittled down from top to bottom.

This is how it should be, I know. But it hits me in a way I’m not expecting. [Read more…]

Praise Bands, Lipstick, and other Futilities of the Faith

By E.D.

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The drummer in the rock band at my church, bangs on his drum, living for the solo at the recessional where a small handful of fellow children of the sixties clap their hands and shake their hips in a way that seems, I don’t know, like everyone would rather be at the Whitesnake concert, but if that’s no longer possible or respectable, then maybe church will do, “For creation was made subject to futility…”

And the children of the seventies and eighties, lower their heads, intentionally somber at the recessional, walk out, crossing themselves to patiently await the death of church drumming. There are grumblings of course, on the way to the car, and once inside the car with the doors shut, my husband and I engage in a complete failure of charity about baby boomers and self-satisfied idiots who can never bear to surrender the stage. The sorrow is not just that the music is bad, it’s that there are so many people who think it’s great.

There will always be lectors in toupees and well-suited ushers with bad breath, and ladies who like pie better than Jesus (sometimes, I am she). And that’s just at church where everyone is supposed to be living life differently, set apart from the things of the world. Church sometimes feels like a smaller theater, the place where the lipstick on your teeth matters just a tiny bit more. What is this lipstick doing here anyway, when Monday through Saturday, it rests? [Read more…]

The Cave of My Imagination

By Jason K. Friedman

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Ma’arat Ha-machpelah, the alliterative name sounded as magical to me as the lives of the people buried there: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. I learned about the so-called Cave of the Patriarchs, Judaism’s most ancient site, in Hebrew day school, and I still remembered the Hebrew name when I went to Israel for the first time, four decades later.

Since my upbringing as a yeshiva boy in southeast Georgia, I’d moved north to college and stayed, experiencing my own secular enlightenment. I’d become a progressive and a Yom Kippur Jew. But all my religious learning and feeling was still in there, easily recalled when needed to say the prayers over the Chanukah candles or sing the Shabbat Kiddush.

My first brush with the reality that someone with this biography might not be welcomed with open arms to Israel came in Ben Gurion airport. A reedy young woman in uniform plucked me from among the blue-T-shirted young American Christians I’d flown over with, and escorted me toward baggage claim.

She asked me questions in Hebrew. “A-nee lo mayveen,” I replied. I don’t understand. In English she asked how I learned Hebrew. “B’beit sefer,” I said. In Hebrew school. “B’beit sefer,” she repeated. [Read more…]

The Wounds of Resurrection

Doubting ThomasAs my husband prepared for an Easter sermon a few weeks ago, our dinnertime conversations during Lent turned to Jesus’s appearance to the disciples after his resurrection, to the episode where poor Thomas is saddled with his unfortunate moniker. Carravaggio painted a terribly potent picture of Thomas probing Jesus’s wounds, his lord’s flesh curving over the doubter’s finger.

With its emphasis on suffering, broken bodies, deprivation, and wounds, Lent’s focus isn’t far from the realities since my father’s cancer diagnosis a year ago: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, the failure of his natural killer cells.

When you have a loved one with cancer, you enter the cloud of unknowing, or perhaps it’s a club of unknowing, a society of those wedged in the grief and emotional confusion that a non-linear illness brings to all who are involved. In this club you might become more familiar with the less famed side effects of chemo like neuropathy and a sensitivity to hot or cold, with the comments people make in an effort at sympathy, or with the ebb and flow of sadness, guilt, and normal life.

Lent puts us in mind of those wounds and scars, of bodies failing, of death. But when Easter comes, and we celebrate resurrection, it sometimes feels like those wounds are mended too quickly. Or perhaps they were never really healed. [Read more…]


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