Muddy River

an image of a black and white subway car moving in a soft blur through a subway station.By Jen Pollock Michel.

It was the summer of Leiby Kletzy, the eight-year-old Hasidic boy kidnapped from his Brooklyn neighborhood in broad daylight and brutally murdered. It was also the summer I almost lost my seven-year-old daughter Camille on a Toronto subway platform.

When I turned, from inside the train, to see my daughter—outside, standing alone—my feet became bricks of indecision. The doors chimed and began closing. A stranger jumped to pry them open, and I pulled her inside, smothering her small body to my chest. She didn’t even know our phone number.

Six years later, I am preparing Camille to ride the subway unaccompanied for the first time. Almost thirteen, she is the happy new owner of a cell phone. “You’re going to have to look for the stairs that say “Northbound’ on the way home,” I say, rehearsing the route she will take home alone.

The train rumbles in as we stand several feet behind the thickly painted yellow line that portends the sheer drop onto the tracks. I imagine the accident, the surprise violence that sends us, unprepared, over its edge. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Love’s Last” by Christian Wiman

The spring equinox was on Monday. I am slowly seeing a flush of new life around me, like plum tree blossoms and nettles, while winter’s dank decay is still lamentably present. Christian Wiman’s haunting and tender poem “Love’s Last” from his collection Once in the West (originally published in Image issue 81) echoes loudly for me right now during this transition of seasons. Within his austere couplets, Wiman ponders the passage of time and recalls memories from his youth. The poem begins, “Love’s last urgency is earth / and grief is all gravity.” As a poet who battled an almost fatal illness, Wiman reminds us of the spiritual guidance we can receive from our own lives, from our past selves. The daring and curious child he once was, slashing at bee’s nests, shows Wiman how “mystery mastering fear” can illuminate the perpetual questions we carry. We are all able to start anew yet we are never that far from death and, in the in-between, may we all unearth a bit of hope and redemption.
—Jessica Gigot


“Love’s Last” By Christian Wiman

Love’s last urgency is earth
and grief is all gravity

and the long fall always
back to earliest hours

that exist nowhere
but in one’s brain.

From the hard-packed
pile of old-mown grass,

from boredom, from pain,
a boy’s random slash

unlocks a dark ardor
of angry bees

that link the trees
and block his way home.

I like to hold him holding me,
mystery mastering fear,

so young, standing unstung
under what survives of sky.

I learned too late how to live.
Child, teach me how to die.

GL banner

Christian Wiman’s newest book of poems is Once in the West, published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. He teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

I Am an American

Shot of three buildings taken looking upward. Behind them, you can see the blue sky with a few clouds. The building in the forefront is to the left of the screen, tan, and has large windows. On a pole strung from the side is an American flag. The flag hangs limply. To the right of the frame, a tall metallic looking building with cross-cross panels of light and dark fills the sky. Behind the flag, in the background, is a tiered building that has a turret and tower at the top.I refresh the page, I refresh the page, I turn away for a few minutes, I teach a class for seventy-five minutes, I sit in a meeting for sixty minutes, and on the way to the meeting, on the way back to my office from the class, with my iPhone in my palm, at the computer on my desk, I refresh the page, I refresh the page, looking for the latest news, hopping over to Facebook for reactions to the morning’s tweets, back to the Times for an update on the latest leak and his response to the leak, looking for the next lie, on alert for the latest outrageously offensive remark.

These are my days now, my nights.

Work is an interruption. A chat with a friend is a partial interruption—for it’s impossible to get through even a short chat without a sigh, without alarm, without reference to what he’s doing and who he’s doing it to now. Picking up my prescription, reading what I’ve assigned my class (Joy Harjo! The Buddha’s Brain!), FaceTime with my grandson—these are interruptions, distractions.

I am a citizen now. I turn my attention back to the news.

What am I doing? What am I doing with you, news, what are you doing with me, news, not the full range of news:  Travel, Arts & Leisure, Sunday Styles, but the single-pointed concentration on news and opinion pieces on that man? [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Afternoon Swim”

green and blue water in some kind of reservoir, surrounded by dark sides. the water is lit up by the reflection of trees. The play of grammar has always lured me. I’ve wondered: why do English sentences take the shape they do? So when I reached line 4 of Lance Larsen’s “Afternoon Swim”—with its bold announcement that he was switching from second person to first—I was hooked. Play with grammar is this poem’s medium. I laughed out loud at the course of Larsen’s sentence about another sentence: “a sentence in a Victorian novel fallen against the belly // of a pregnant somebody dozing on shore, turning now / to devour a delicious direct object.” Yet soon—surprise!—the direct object being devoured is the loaves that Christ multiplied, and the poem’s play turns theological as well as grammatical. And metaphysical, too, by the poem’s end, as it moves into pondering why words have the meanings they do—and how our very self is constructed.

—Peggy Rosenthal [Read more…]

To Run and Not Grow Weary, Part 2

eric-liddell-public-domain-via-wikimediaBy Jeffrey Overstreet.

Maybe it was instinct that sent me back to relive the 1924 Olympic Games.

Yesterday you found me despairing, feeling a sudden collapse of my lifelong will to write. Slumped on the couch, I was watching, of all things, Chariots of Fire.

As a child, I loved this movie. But it wasn’t until college that I saw how it stands in stark contrast to so much evangelical entertainment, how it avoids a faith will make your dreams come true pep talk.

In fact, its most fervent evangelical figure, Eric Liddell’s sister, Jenny, is frustrated when her athletic brother postpones his missionary work in China in order to become an Olympic runner. Straightforward evangelism, Jenny believes, is the real work. If people are dying without hearing about Jesus, what is running but self-indulgence?

The tract-peddling, altar-calling culture in which I grew up would have loved Jenny.

And yet, Eric argues with her: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”

His father supports him: “Eric, you can glorify God by peeling a potato if you peel it to perfection.”

And we still hear about Liddell’s faith today. Why? Because he ran. He ran like a holy fool. [Read more…]