It refused to rain during the hot, middling July weeks the summer I turned fifteen. The clouds hung low over the Plains. My mother and I fought nearly every day during that dry month, even if our fighting was mostly silent, threats drawn from taut eyes and skin. I pushed always, every day, against an atmosphere full to bursting. She and her doctors tried to find a perfect storm of antipsychotics and antidepressants, but the voices telling her to break… Read more

The Iron Cross, Part 2

This post originally appeared on “Good Letters” on October 14, 2014. Continued from yesterday. The Way of Saint James—El Camino de Santiago—is a pilgrimage that began in the Middle Ages and remains popular today. Each year pilgrims from all around the world walk from points throughout Europe to reach the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Some do it for sport, others for contemplation, others to pray for miracles. (more…) Read more

The Iron Cross, Part 1

This post originally appeared on “Good Letters” on October 13, 2014. I didn’t know Julia well. The first time I saw her, she was sitting at the far end of the table around which our language class met. Although I knew the instructor, Chiara, it was my first day with this group of students who for years had gathered in Chiara’s dining room to discuss classic books in Italian. That day I was the last one to arrive, and when… Read more

Poetry Friday: “My Life as an Open-Air Temple”

In Dolin’s poem we wake up abruptly inside the walls of an ancient temple. Walls are all we have to orient ourselves here in this place, which is without roof or pillars. “I don’t know how” this transformation took place, the unnamed speaker confesses almost shyly, but suddenly she seems to have so much space inside. I love the care and attention of the speaker’s observant eye that draws my own eye down the page. This eye is able to… Read more

Smelling A Rat

This post originally appeared on “Good Letters” on October 15, 2014. About a year ago I felt an overpowering urge to say the “Our Father.” I’m still not sure why. I never knew my biological father, so I’ve always been indifferent to this prayer, the only prayer Jesus taught us. In the back of my mind I’d think: He’s not my father. I don’t have a father. And my heart would be empty even as my mouth said the words. Until that moment… Read more

Rules for the Male Gaze

Once, in high school, a guy in the trombone section brought a Playboy to band practice and passed it around the horns section. I was on tympani and could see over their shoulders the airbrushed bodies, the unnatural poses, the phony backdrops. Even as a hormonal adolescent I could see the images were crass, gaudy in their artificiality. The transgression was more thrilling than its object. Then I discovered the late-night previews at the upper reaches of the cable channels…. Read more

Our Lady of Czestochowa

Before a metastasizing cancer had fully whittled away her quality of life, my mother left me, on a cold November morning. I found her slumped over the bathtub in my New Hampshire home, just steps away from the guest room where she often slept. I did not rush to her rescue, or to move her from the odd position she was in. Though I said “Mom?” I knew she was dead. At the hospital, what I remember were my mother’s… Read more

Who Is This Aliveness I Am?

I am alive. I am alive. I am alive.   Who is this aliveness I am? What is this aliveness I am? How is this aliveness I am? (more…) Read more

Poetry Friday: “Graveyard Prayer”

In this poem, Robert Cording places himself in an unusual spot: “at the graveyard where I’ll be / buried” and even specifically sitting “on my gravesite.” The poem is a testing out of various tones toward this meeting place of the living moment and its inevitable future end. Teasingly, he calls himself “a Constable imposter” as he lies back gazing at the clouds. Mockingly, he sees his dead self as “steeping in my own juices,” beyond his current enjoyment of… Read more

Still Pilgrim

Still Pilgrim. Just the title of Angela Alaimo O’Donnell’s new poetry collection makes you pause. Pun and paradox reverberate through the title terms. A pilgrim is someone on a journey…a spiritual journey. “Still” can mean unmoving, motionless (definitely not journeying). But, further, “still” can mean ongoing, as in “I’m still doing that.” These contradictory concepts lie at the heart of Still Pilgrim. And there’s more fluidity, too: the persona in the poems is often the poet herself, but can also… Read more

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