Poetry Friday: “After” by Marjorie Stelmach

by Rin Johnson on flickrGrief is a state of being that almost defies articulation. When you’re in it, it consumes and seems present in everything. Marjorie Stelmach focuses the lens of this poem on small scenes from the natural world—frames at once ordinary and suffused with loss, as befits the claustrophobia of mourning. The speaker here admits to wanting out, to feeling done-in by sadness— “Today, the last thing I would wish / is another emblem of grit and continuance”—and yet each effort to observe something outside the self becomes an act of hope and faith. I love the gaps in this poem. I’ve read it multiple times and suspect it hasn’t finished telling me all of its secrets. I’m struck by how each of these images so tenderly reflect the mystery of human suffering: not even a willow tree can escape “a keening that leaves it chastened, / loose-limbed, compliant.” God feels far away, yet so close, in the “available healing” of creation described here so beautifully.

—Melissa Reeser Poulin [Read more…]

Knee Walk

By Grace Talusan

Our Lady FatimaWe stumbled onto the bus in Lisbon, sleepy after the overnight flight from New York.

The pilgrimage tour guide handed out rosaries while the priest told the bus driver to play a recording of the rosary prayers on the sound system. I fingered the pink beads, following along with the Hail Marys and Our Fathers. By the time we got to the Sorrowful Mysteries, I had fallen asleep, lulled by the warm bus and the whispers of prayer.

Our first stop on the pilgrimage was the Church of St. Anthony of Padua to see the Bleeding Host. Waiting for our tour guide to organize us in front of the church, I got my first good look at my companions: elderly nuns in the habits of their order, women traveling alone who were not nuns, a priest, married couples, and an extended family.

Except for a six-year-old boy, I was the youngest person there by at least fifteen years. [Read more…]

The Cave of My Imagination

By Jason K. Friedman


Ma’arat Ha-machpelah, the alliterative name sounded as magical to me as the lives of the people buried there: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah. I learned about the so-called Cave of the Patriarchs, Judaism’s most ancient site, in Hebrew day school, and I still remembered the Hebrew name when I went to Israel for the first time, four decades later.

Since my upbringing as a yeshiva boy in southeast Georgia, I’d moved north to college and stayed, experiencing my own secular enlightenment. I’d become a progressive and a Yom Kippur Jew. But all my religious learning and feeling was still in there, easily recalled when needed to say the prayers over the Chanukah candles or sing the Shabbat Kiddush.

My first brush with the reality that someone with this biography might not be welcomed with open arms to Israel came in Ben Gurion airport. A reedy young woman in uniform plucked me from among the blue-T-shirted young American Christians I’d flown over with, and escorted me toward baggage claim.

She asked me questions in Hebrew. “A-nee lo mayveen,” I replied. I don’t understand. In English she asked how I learned Hebrew. “B’beit sefer,” I said. In Hebrew school. “B’beit sefer,” she repeated. [Read more…]

Airbnb and the Art of Hospitality

Zarr photo IMG_4518As I write this, my husband and I are on our twentieth day away from home as we travel through parts of Europe and England on holiday. It’s a celebration trip for us—as of this August, we have been married twenty-five years. Though at one point we envisioned six or eight weeks abroad, neither of us has ever been outside of North America before so we kept the scope of the trip manageable and will be headed home in another week.

To save money, we’ve used Airbnb for lodging in a couple of places along the way. If you’re not familiar with Airbnb, it’s a network of people around the world who have rooms, apartments, houses, treehouses, houseboats, RVs, yurts—and any other type of space you can think of—on offer for travelers to use instead of hotels, motels, hostels, or other managed properties. Property owners (or “hosts” as they are called on the site) list descriptions of their spaces along with maps and pictures and, perhaps most importantly, reviews by previous guests.

We booked an apartment in Amsterdam (our first stop on the trip) and a converted shed in someone’s backyard outside of London through the site. Leading up to our arrival in Amsterdam, our host, Camille, provided helpful and detailed instructions about how to get from the airport to the apartment, just as a friend or family member would. He was there to greet us when we arrived. Hanging from the staircase was a heart-shaped chalkboard on which was written “25 years together! Wow!” just for us. [Read more…]

The Bearable Weightiness of Being

By Amy Peterson
61pASF-GwkL._SL500_I was restless this spring, edging manic. I think my kids noticed. One Thursday I checked them out of school for an impromptu road trip.

“Isn’t this fun?” I asked. If this were a novel I’d say my eyes were glittering, but this is not fiction: I have no idea how wild-eyed I was.

“I just think it’s a little weird to leave school for no reason,” my six-year-old said.

It wasn’t for no reason. The responsibilities of adult life were weighing heavily on me, and I felt stuck with mortgage payments and email responses and writing deadlines and the feeling that every person in our small town was watching me. At the same time, my body was remembering another spring, the spring when I felt most free.

Karis and I took a gently rocking train from Budapest to Prague, clutching paper cups of coffee, steam fogging the green view outside the window. It was May 2002, and I was twenty-years-old, wearing my hair in greasy braids, mostly unaware of my privilege, and taking myself and my freedom very seriously. [Read more…]