Listening to Simone

By Christiana N. Peterson
lady-in-pewThe woman stands in the entryway of our common building just before Sunday worship begins. It’s not a sightly place, but it has every necessity for common intentional community life: a kitchen, a large meeting space, tables and chairs for worship and meals, a bathroom and a prayer room.

At first, the woman seems to fit right in with our unfussy crew: round spectacles, hair in a frizzy bob, a shapeless dress, oversized shoes. I immediately feel an affinity with her.

But I am also wary of her. Something tells me that she has intentionally obliterated anything outwardly lovely in her appearance. This both draws me in and annoys me.

Because I think I know her type. They come through intentional community sometimes: idealistic, stringent in their belief system, radically unusual in their dress. Community hoppers who bounce from church to church, intentional community to community, never satisfied with what they find and always criticizing. Not one of those again, I sigh. [Read more...]

Poetry Friday: “Mixed Company” by Brett Foster

lastsupperEach Friday at Good Letters we feature a poem from the pages of Image, selected and introduced by one of our writers or readers.

The much-beloved poet and teacher Brett Foster passed away earlier this week and so I’d like to dedicate “Poetry Friday” to his memory. Image published quite a few of Brett’s poems and the one I’ve chosen to talk about is “Mixed Company.” I chose it because while many of Brett’s poems exemplify an elegant formalism (in part deriving from his deep knowledge of Renaissance literature), this one shows him to be in a more informal, colloquial mood. With its short lines and dramatic soliloquy form, “Mixed Company” offers a vivid glimpse into the second chapter of the gospel of Mark. Like those medieval or Renaissance paintings that placed biblical stories in contemporary settings, this poem begins by talking about a coffee shop. There’s some fun as Brett plays with the meaning of the poem’s title (and don’t you just love “the ‘meh’ of our behaviors / or consistent confusions”?). Having disoriented us with the coffee shop reference, Brett suckers us in to the perspective of one of the disciples, who is grateful for the way Jesus accepts him (and his fellow “sinners”). The speaker realizes that something Jesus has told them might be considered insulting, but instead he finds it liberating. In Brett’s deft handling, simple language gains unexpected resonance and power: “I found / myself happy to be allowed /
to stay there.” I believe Brett did find a place to “stay” on this earth and I trust that he’s found it even more truly now.

 

—Gregory Wolfe


“Mixed Company” by Brett Foster

Mark 2

Meaning, not the fey name
of a coffee shop cheekily named,
but me and the sinners
(not “mixed” as in unlike things
commingling, but rather
the “meh” of our behaviors
or consistent confusions,
contradictions like breaking
news ongoing, over and over
with little new to report…)
as I was saying, me and sinners
and tax collectors, resorting
to the healer’s home most nights
since Levi from the tollbooth
introduced us all. That one night
he delicately explained how lately
the holier-than-thous
who police our community
were increasingly complaining
of our all hanging out.
We half expected to be gently
asked to leave at that point.
I mean, I think we would
have mainly understood it.
You’ll appreciate with me, then,
how surprised and pleased
we felt that this wasn’t
the case or the result
of his telling us this, not
at all. “It’s sick people who need
a doctor, not healthy ones,”
he said, smiling. Thinking
of it now, it’s sort of insulting,
but that’s not how we heard it.
They were comforting
words instead, and I found
myself happy to be allowed
to stay there, just nodding,
nodding vigorously,
at the sound of those words.

 

Brett Foster is the author of two poetry collections, The Garbage Eater (Triquarterly /Northwestern) andFall Run Road, which was awarded Finishing Line Press’s 2012 Open Chapbook Prize. A third collection,Extravagant Rescues, is forthcoming. His writing has appeared in Books & Culture, Boston Review, Hudson Review, Kenyon Review, Poetry Daily, Raritan, Southwest Review, and Yale Review. He teaches creative writing and Renaissance literature at Wheaton College.

The Way of Saint James

Jan ValloneMy Uncle Jimmy died in September at the age of ninety. Born in Sicily, he immigrated to New York when young and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was the husband of my aunt for sixty-one years, the frolicsome father of my two cousins, a regular part of my life until I married and moved away.

I can still see my uncle clearly as he was in January 1994. The way his brown eyes sparkled. The way his thick hair swept back from his forehead. The way he arm-wrestled my four-year-old son to laughter, easing tears caused by my father’s death.

That was the last time I saw my Uncle Jimmy. Almost twenty years ago.

On the day my Uncle Jimmy died, I didn’t even know that he was ill. He’d lived in Florida for two decades and I in Seattle for three. Through those years our correspondence was limited, consisting only of Christmas and Easter cards with a few scribbled pleasantries. Some years, even cards were lacking.

No, on the day my uncle died, I wasn’t at his bedside hugging him. Instead, I was in a Spanish cathedral embracing a very different Jimmy, not one of flesh and bones, but of gold-plate and jewels, the bust of Saint James, apostle of Jesus, whom Spaniards call Santiago. [Read more...]

Our Lady’s Football Team

Shadow_Football_PlayerEvery Saturday morning in fall I wake up and feel a tinge of disappointment that I have not woken up in a dorm room in South Bend, Indiana; that my Notre Dame marching band uniform does not hang in the closet at the foot of my bed.

I’m disappointed because I’m not eighteen, nineteen, twenty, twenty-one years old. And I’m disappointed that instead of spending the entire day wrapped up in the tradition and pageantry that is college football, I will instead mow the lawn, sort the recycling, and grade freshman composition essays.

Notre Dame football is deeply engrained in my being. Put it this way, if something cataclysmic happened and we were all reduced to cannibalism, I like to think that I would taste like a crisp fall day, a hint of charcoal smoke, a whiff of beer breath, and the tang of the kelly green turf in the House that Rockne built. I like to think that you would hear strains of the Notre Dame Victory march as you roasted me.

Sorry, I know that’s really creepy, but that’s the best way I can describe the zeal that I have for Notre Dame and its football team. It’s more than addiction, it’s as though my very genetic structure has been altered. This makes losing very, very difficult. [Read more...]

Life-Saving Moments of Art

Drawing of a nesting hen In August, the musical duo Alright Alright, composed of husband and wife Seth and China Kent, performed in our living room for their last house concert in a series of a dozen across the country.

As the musicians (described as “piano-based folk Americana with a healthy measure of art-song/cabaret”) set up their lighting and cigar-box guitars, a number of children played outside in a tree house garlanded with flowers. Cicadas electrified the maples. Adults drank cheap pinot and dipped pretzels in hummus. For many, the next day would be the first day of attending or teaching school. Already, it was a bittersweet, beauty-haunted evening.

And then the couple sang.

With her rich, soulful voice and his tender harmonies, China and Seth filled our small space with songs about quirky lovers, a dying father, child soldiers, and Mary, mother of Jesus. Our usually empty living room couch and chairs radiated with an unlikely assortment of friends and neighbors who just minutes before had been strangers. The immediate, shared intimacy of participating in this music together was palpable: communion, healing, and worship.

[Read more...]


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