The Long Regretful Wait

By Tony Woodlief

PhoneMy mother’s quavering voicemail was right: I hadn’t called in a long time. I justified my neglect with the assurance that I’d called on her birthday, I’d called on Mother’s Day, I’d made my dutiful calls even though I suspected she was mad at me. I made them and she didn’t answer.

I hadn’t called in a long time, but goddammit, neither had she.

My mother’s tears always put a knot in my gut. Once as a boy I fell asleep on her bed, and woke to her weeping. On the television were men, some in brown uniforms, some wearing white sheets. They stood shouting in the parking lot of our local library. The next day Mama put a letter in our mailbox, and the newspaper published it.

A week later, angry people were calling our house. Mama argued with some, hung up quickly on others. I beat her to the phone once, and a woman asked: “Just what is your mama’s problem with the Klan?”

Only God knows what my mother would have done to that woman, had she possessed the power to reach through the phone. [Read more…]

Passing the Possibility of Parenthood

Empty SwingsetEarly one recent morning, I’m still half-asleep. The cat lies curled up between Craig and me, and when my leg moves against her, she snarls.

“Hey, now, little one,” he says, bending his face down to her and scratching her softly behind the neck. “That’s not the way to act, is it?”

In my sleepy state, I hear him talking to a child, our child. “You would’ve made such a good father,” I think as I fall back to sleep, drowsy logic catching on my use of the conditional.

A year ago, when we went to our first session of church-mandated premarital counseling, the therapist advised us to discuss the two most-cited sources of marital discord: money and children—“or child-rearing,” she qualified, glancing at the information sheet. [Read more…]

Grief and the Weight of Glory

ClotheslineThe wind whips through the quilts and sheets on our clothesline, cracking now and then like a benign thunderclap, tugging at the clothespins I inherited from my grandmother’s childhood farm. My daughter and I watch them as we swing together on the playset her father built a few seasons ago, before she was born.

This spring morning my father calls to tell me that his mother, my grandmother, who passed down those clothespins, has fallen asleep.

“Do you mean she died?” I say, knowing the answer but wanting him to say it clearly.

“Yes.”

We don’t say much after that. It’s not as if this was unexpected. She is ninety-three and has been dying slowly since her kidneys failed months ago. But there is a finality to it, my last grandparent, the last connection to another generation, as if slowly, my family, my history, my memories are being whittled down from top to bottom.

This is how it should be, I know. But it hits me in a way I’m not expecting. [Read more…]

A Poet Walks Into a Business Networking Event

Wine GlassesThe poet gives a young woman $15 for admission, squeezes her drink ticket like a talisman.

Voices roar like surf.

The poet straightens her arms so she can shimmy through the crowd. She must reach the color-coded name tags. There’s a palette of categories: Tech, Finance, Start-up, Health. She must decide between Arts, yellow, or Marketing, red.

If she chooses yellow, she’ll marginalize herself. Yellow’s for novelties, freaks. If she chooses red, she’ll forsake her tribe, the writers who flounce through her photos in flowing skirts. Tonight she wears a tailored dress. A necklace strung with crystal squares. [Read more…]

Thin Places, Part 1

DSC_0176A few summers ago, my husband Tom and I were in Dublin for a week, and one day, we took a tour bus to two ancient holy places—thin places, the Celts would have called them: spots where heaven and earth are very close to one another, where the ordinary distance between the two collapses.

When I was an evangelical teenager, I thought the idea of thin places was sort of cool, another way to describe that feeling I got when I sat on the beach during vacation and saw an especially vibrant sunset, or stood on top of a mountain and spun slowly to take in the vista. The world was transformed in a moment of extraordinary beauty, and so was I, for a little while.

I felt close to God, closer than I felt singing hymns or listening to sermons. Church, in its very weekly-ness, wasn’t extraordinary like that. I’d never been one of those “on fire for Jesus” types, like my friends who raised their hands in worship, but when I felt that spark, I thought maybe for a while I was like them. [Read more…]


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