Purple Light in Sarajevo

Sarajevo MountainsMy fellowship liaison, Sevko, drove, and his gaze flicked across teenagers spilling over the sidewalks. The center of town spread within the cradle of the mountains, lit by the pink and blue haze of underground clubs. Gray office and apartment buildings faced the street, many of them gashed open, levels of exposed brick and wood open to view.

As we drove, it was hard not to notice that this place was beautiful and that the air tasted like all air that lives near mountains. It was hard not to notice that the mountains were built with cemeteries, ridges and floes of graves cupping the city.

I was in Sarajevo as part of a month-long fellowship to study environmental policy. I’d grown uncomfortable with the lack of humanism in environmental debates in the U.S., and I wanted love of people and love of nature in the same breath. [Read more…]

A Dancing Christ

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On Holy Saturday, I woke up at my sister’s house in northern Minnesota with a visual migraine, an aura with no consequent pain. They happen occasionally, and mine are always pretty textbook: wavy sparkling spirals and shimmering crystalline lamellae. The aura is technically termed a scintillating scotoma, a result of a sudden tidal wave of neurochemicals and sudden neuronal silence in the occipital cortex. It’s both a terrifying and a benign experience, due to the fact that it’s a “positive” vision: something has been added to what’s seen rather than lost to darkness, internal electrical modulation piling atop the maps of the world the occipital region is continually building.

Easter has a hint of this duality, this feeling of things being both or all at once, a discomfort in overlapping edges, things unseen, things seen and mistrusted. A whole faith turns on the one thing people desire above anything else and can’t have: a friend returned, seeking rewarded, loss reversed. Though I have to wonder: would anything have mattered, would God have changed or hope for any future been snuffed if the resurrection had not occurred, if Christ hadn’t separated himself from our fates and our greatest suffering—the loss of who we love—at the last minute?

I’ve been reading the apocryphal Acts of John in small pieces a lot lately. To call it a book would be to ignore that it is in pieces; the puzzle of its fullness can never be solved and also can be solved in multiple ways. It was likely written down in the second century and tells the story of the Apostle John’s journey to and life in Ephesus. But I’ve been reading it for the dancing Christ John gives us after the Last Supper, the moving man of flesh approaching the arch of his life’s trajectory. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Creed in the Santa Ana Winds” by Bronwen Butter Newcott

Bronwen Poetry Friday Pic 2Growing up in southern California, I experienced the uneasy allure of the Santa Ana’s hot fall and winter winds that swept down from Nevada’s Great Basin. They whipped up the dust and screamed against the windowpanes. In the drier mountain areas, they ignited fires; in my coastal town, they seemed to blow the stars through the air. As legendary as the full moon, the winds sparked dangers physical and fantastical. Did the fault lines lose their grip in the heat of these gales? Did we? In “Creed in the Santa Ana Winds,” Bronwen Butter Newcott captures—or, shall I say, chases—the fury of the Santa Ana’s in the shadow of an even more powerful, and incalculable, Creator. Her exacting imagery blows those winds through my soul again, two decades after I left.

—Tania Runyan


Creed in the Santa Ana Winds by Bronwen Butter Newcott

You believe He’s stronger than the desert wind
butting against the fence, wind that ignites sagebrush,
tears through the hills and strips the houses to ash.

Despite your lips that crack till blood comes,
skin that grows rough between your fingers,
you believe He will be solid to your touch

the way the bay is slate each dusk, broken only by fish
that hurl themselves toward the pearling sky.
The wind that takes a voice in the night

makes the house uneasy, shouts as the fence flattens.
You stand watching the junipers thrash and knit pleas
into the darkness; you believe He hears. In the morning,

there are six dead kittens on the driveway, a cat
moaning beneath the house. You pick them up by the neck
and put them in the trash. One day, you believe,

God will blow this all down, skin the world
to dust and water and make something new, but for now,
the noise of trees thrashed and cracked covers the ground.

 

Bronwen Butter Newcott grew up in Washington, DC. After completing her MFA, she moved to southern California with her husband where she taught high school, art journal workshops, and had her first two children. She now lives in the DC area with her family. Her work has appeared in Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, Smartish Pace, Poet Lore, and other publications.

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Snow on Snow

Dante_smSnow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

You probably know these lines, either from Christina Rossetti’s poem of 1871 or, more likely, Holst’s setting of them as a carol.

I know them. I used one of them as title of a book, “bleak” altered to “deep” by the publisher, who thought the former too gloomy.

Which it might indeed be. Rossetti was melancholic, iced-up with unversed emotion; with passions gone gelid which, reticent, gob-stopped, couldn’t quite state their names. [Read more…]

Wonder Woman, Flying, Part 1: Transcendent Hope

wonderwoman1It’s one of my favorite images of Diana of Themyscira, a.k.a. Wonder Woman: her proud, bold body fills the page as she soars across a pink sunset, arms spread wide like a diver, her legs not straight but slightly askew as if skipping on the air.

As someone who never had much use for comics, I’m still a little surprised that I even have a favorite image of Wonder Woman, or that I prefer to call her Diana. Now she intrigues me for many reasons, but it was this image that helped me to “get” her and, indeed, to fall in love with her character.

I’ve read probably a hundred comic book titles in the six years since I really started to get into them—and I mean full-on novels running several hundred pages as well as the volumes that collect five to eight issues of a series—but I still tend to think of them as lighter fare, the medium I looked to for mental stimulation those early nights of parenthood when my newborn needed rocking, the medium I still prefer when my children, now six and three, are playing by themselves but I’m not confident I’ll be able to focus for long.

Yet for all their blatant dialogue and over-the-top action, I find that the good comics really do reach beyond entertainment status to become serious, thoughtful stories about morality, justice, and even the violence so central to many of them. And like any good story, the best comics develop these themes through the tools of their medium and not merely through a few key lines of dialogue. That’s what this image from George Pérez’s 1980s reboot of Wonder Woman does for me. [Read more…]


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