Epiphany in the Memory Unit

Image of a profile of a person's face with light illuminating the cheeks and forehead, the face is shrouded by a round blurry object in the foreground.The priest’s wife handed me her half full can of beer. It was Christmastime, and the beer she was offering was a Texas IPA, sweating seductively on the table between us. I brought the can to my lips and the slightly bitter taste of the half-warm beer filled me with relief.

I needed a drink. It was 7 p.m., and I’d arrived late. We would be heading out to sing carols at the Alzheimer’s unit of a local nursing home, a well-appointed facility near the neighborhood in Houston where I am a music minister and where the priest’s wife’s husband is rector.

The nursing home smelled faintly of Clorox and overcooked vegetables—as I suppose all nursing homes do—but I had been unprepared for the regret that hit me with that smell. [Read more…]

Poetry Friday: “Bewilder”

Beluga whales swimming in a bluish cave with light illuminating them in the ocean.This is a poem about scale, about the awesome power of the Creator, who in turn gave humanity the power to create. And it’s about the power of a created being, and its potential to do good or evil. Here we have a whale sighting, her powerful fluke useable for constructive or destructive acts—“so many gestures// a fluke or fin can make with or/ without ruin.” Over time, the Leviathan has stood for evil of various kinds. Yet the bulk of the poem celebrates the whale’s beauty without romanticizing or anthropomorphizing. Indeed, it makes deliberate strides against that temptation, admonishing: “her eye deeply/winking at my eye, no more/ human for that.” The poem affirms, if for no one else than for the speaker, that the whale was made for her own good purpose, for God’s own good purpose, “to sing… for enchantment and for love.” The mystery of creation rises into view, immense, blinking its wild eye, and then disappears again, leaving our hearts pounding. Leaving us feeling more alive, as any good poem— creation—ought to. 

—Melissa Reeser Poulin


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Transcendence: A Tribute to William Christenberry (1936-2016)

house window light 800“The art of losing isn’t hard to master,” Elizabeth Bishop said, with irony. Still, it’s true that we mislay so many things over a lifetime that we become quite adept at bearing our deprivations. By the end, it’s a wonder that we have so much left to convey; the reading of wills should be bankrupt affairs, little more than legacies of good wishes and snatches of fair poetry.

But it’s not just carelessness that empties our pockets. Some things—many things—we simply let fall away. There is intent behind the release, and if not intent, recklessness. As in Bishop’s poem, among the things most commonly lost in this fashion are people. They have a habit of slipping out of our lives all too easily and much too regularly. [Read more…]

The Patron Saint of Losers, Part 2

vincent-van-gogh-enclosed-field-with-ploughman-on-wikimedia-public-domainThis post, which appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue 90, is continued from yesterday.

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a contemporary of Shakespeare, knew his share of failure.

As a young man he went off to serve in the military—whether to escape arrest for wounding a man in a duel or for some other reason remains unclear. As a marine he participated in the fateful battle of Lepanto, in which the naval forces of the Ottoman Empire were decisively defeated. On another expedition he was captured by pirates and spent five years as a slave in Algiers before he was finally ransomed and came home.

His efforts to support himself with his pen met with little success. Neither did his petitions for compensation for his war service. He was imprisoned twice and only late in his life did the publication of Don Quixote ease his financial woes. He died soon after its second volume was brought out. [Read more…]

The Patron Saint of Losers, Part 1

honore_daumier_017_don_quixote-on-wikimediaThis post appears as the Editorial Statement in Image issue 90.

One of the stranger conversations I’ve ever had took place during my senior year of college. I was attending a conference, and during one of the coffee breaks I was talking with a scholar who had taken a shine to me. He asked if I was considering doing a PhD, and if so, in what field. I told him that I was, probably in English literature. He frowned.

“No, there’s a glut in the market for that. You do want a teaching position ultimately, right?”

I said it was likely. He thought for a moment.

“I’d recommend Soviet Studies, but if the Soviet Union falls you’d be in trouble.”

He pondered a while. He may have rubbed his chin.

“I’ve got it,” he said brightly. “Egyptology.”

I looked to see if his tongue might be in his cheek, but he seemed cheerily sincere. I muttered that I’d think about it and went on my way. [Read more…]