Wednesday, March 30, 2011

not gud enuf

ay wuz rejektid
fur mi rit-ting
wuz not fit-ting
and kroodly rot.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

my baby wears a top hat

On Advice

Perhaps if I knew how
to turn my head
to preen my wings
and had no thumbs or knees
to beg upon.
Perhaps if my ears
were holes too narrow
for words to enter
and like the mallard
I wore a white
and priestly
Perhaps if I could decide to fly
then do it. Then I might
know that thing you say
that water does,
or a broken heart,
the way it can
itself beading up
and falling off like water,
like water off a duck’s back.
But I have seen the way
that water rolls
like wine
like justice
down his back
and I cannot forget.

Sometimes when we give birth to a poem, it becomes a little person.  It grows its own legs and hobbles away, its meaning obscured even from our own understanding.  That is what happened with this poem figuratively and (semi) literally, especially when I centered it on the page.  It emerged "collar" and all and proceeded to wander into heresy.  Perhaps.  I hope not, but I can't tell from here.  We have such high hopes for our progeny. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Tooth, the Truth, and the Imagination

Speaking of mythical creatures, I have good news.  There has been a tooth-fairy sighting in Wheaton, Illinois.  The six year old I baby sit for says that she saw him.  Apparently, he has rainbow colored hair and wears a beautiful dress.  I asked her how she knew it was a boy, and she said, as though I was insufferably slow, because on the dress it says, “I’m a boy.”  Oh, and there’s a unicorn in his hair.
There’s so much to say about this, it’s hard to know exactly where to start.  I asked her if she believed the tooth fairy was real.  She said yes.  I asked her if she believed in God.  She said yes.  I said, and what is He like?  He seems scary.  But you know he loves you right?  Yeah, he loves me a lot.  She seemed genuine about it.  And then she scrunched up her little face the way children do when thinking deeply and said, I don’t think the tooth fairy is really real.  I think that maybe it is just somebody pretending to be the tooth fairy.    
She has a dress in the closet that she looks at almost every day.  If I didn’t know any better, I would say it looks a great deal like a tooth fairy dress, pouffy tulle skirl and all.  Except that it is all white.  She is not allowed to wear it for another year when she takes her first communion.  But still, she looks.  
Tomorrow morning she is going to wake up, eagerly look under the pillow, and there will be some money there.  She will be grateful but unsure of exactly where to direct her gratitude.  I’ve heard the God/tooth-fairy analogy before, but it seems to me it breaks down because there is a tooth-fairy.  Not “inside her heart,” but two flesh and blood people who in a sense gave her all her teeth.  And now in the middle of the night give her cash, and bless her with a something she does not really understand in a way she cannot see.  But one day, she will know, and it will be her choice whether to say thank you, or not.  “Fairy” is a word, a baby tooth. 
If my god is a god-of-the-gaps, my logic is unfair.  And often as humans we explain phenomena we don’t understand with mythical beings outside of the bounded set of what we can touch.  Where there is a gap, we often fill it with our imagination.  Rainbow hair, a unicorn, a fish tail, a trident, whatever.  However, Romans 1:20 reads, “For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”  It seems to me that it is not just telling us to ask, as many apologists have presented it, who could have made this tree?  a god must have.  It’s saying, look at the tree.  Look at the tree.  Understand His divine attributes from what has been made, not because of the ways you don’t understand what was made but the ways that you do.  I recognize that to some extent, as I’ve presented it, this is circular logic. However, I think there are a number of ways to enter the circle in a way that is faithful to reason and the human experience.  One way, perhaps, has to do not so much with a small gap but with a gaping, insatiable hole inside of us that longs not just for safety or passing along our genes, but longs for God.  Longs to know God and be known.  Longs to love and be loved and be known by this Love.  
In one year, this little girl will be kneeling at the alter in a beautiful white dress and there will not be the gap that there is now.  It will be filled by an adult tooth she will use to bite down on the transubstantiated broken body of our Lord.  At seven, she will probably be thinking about how she looks like a princess in her dress.  She will not apprehend much of what is happening.  And this will be His will.
Six years ago when I was ministering on the streets of Chicago, a woman told me not to give apples to the homeless because so often they don’t have teeth or the teeth they have are too weak to bite through the skin.  In some ways, it is almost cruel to give them sustenance that they cannot take in.  It’s strange when the plight of a situation hits you not because of the large obvious consequence but a small one.  I couldn’t conceptualize not having a roof, but not being able to eat an apple?  The thought flooded my heart with sorrow.  I did not know how yet to grieve the bigger loss.  Perhaps God gave me this small one to practice on.  
I realize that Genesis does not actually say that the fruit that Adam ate was an apple, but suppose for a moment it was.  God could have chosen not to give Adam teeth, and the story would be much different if he had stood there gumming the fruit like a fool.  But God chose to give him teeth. Strong, healthy, unfallen teeth with sharp incisors to pierce the skin of the fruit, to separate, to take it in.  And I wonder what it would have been like if Adam was okay with the gaps and didn’t grasp for this knowledge of good and evil too early.  Or what if he had used his imagination to fill in the gaps, for now, with speculations about why a loving God had said no, not yet.  Perhaps they would have been mostly false, but maybe they would have sufficed until the time of not yet, until things he could not yet imagine would be revealed.  Maybe he could have slowed down enough to pause and see the beauty of the tree with gratitude in his heart, without trying to apprehend it with his mind or mouth.
Isaiah 52:14 tells us that Christ’s “appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness--.”  I know at this point, I am taking this so far, it is almost ridiculous, but the truth is, amidst the floggings and the blows, I am sure that Jesus lost some teeth, and maybe He spit them out or maybe in His gasping cries He swallowed one.  I imagine His mouth now, swollen and bloody.  I see it calling out to the Father, begging for mercy, not for Himself, but on behalf of those who are watching Him die in agony, unmoved.  We know not what we do.  And we don’t.  We have no bloody clue.  If I was there, I would have been among those who went home after witnessing His final cry, to prepare and eat my Shabbat dinner, to get on with my religious life.  But more and more, by His grace, I am feeling the urge to stay, to linger, to obey the call I hear to look at the tree.  Look at the tree.  There is no one like our God.  

Friday, March 25, 2011

wafting the fumes of another world

Have you ever wondered what magical things smell like?  Like the feather of a phoenix, a leprechaun cough, or the belly button of a mermaid?  Would it be unbearably sweet?  Surprisingly nutty?  It’s my humble opinion that Bath and Body Works should use their gobs of research money to discover smells that I would actually be interested in.  I already know what a Cherry Blossom smells like or a Kitchen Lemon.  Boring!  I want to smell smells that go beyond my wildest imagination.  I have to admit that they do have a couple of stranger scents including Dancing Waters or Moonlit Night, but I’m just gonna be honest.  I’m pretty sure they didn’t do any research at all.  They just made it up.  

Thursday, March 24, 2011

lines written in late winter

Midnight’s icy tears so moved the light
to sheath the trees inside a jewel.
Then to the mid-day sun’s delight
a willow wept in diamonds.
Beneath, a pond was melt along the brim.
Over shrinking glaze of snow and glass
the willow leaned as though to gaze 
upon her glimmer’s loveliness.
She wept a beauty queen’s surprise
or perhaps a queen become too soon,
coronated in resplendent light and
a sky’s unthinkable, unthinking blue.
Trembling in the wind she cried,
giving winter’s wealth away 
which melts awash in blinking eyes
of a thousand tiny suns.

To Laura McNeel, who has known the winter of our discontent and plants the seeds of spring.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

products of the production

so this must be why i do not feel like a natural being, why protecting a planet that doesn’t do much of anything for me seems foreign.  well, there are a lot of reasons, but maybe one is this.  that i don’t nibble myself to become clean.  there is no nibbling at all.  like my cat or the duck that floats on the water ten feet in front of me, preening in self-contained simplicity.  it is a rigamarole for me to clean my body despite the fact no one would mistake me as a high-maintenance kind of gal.  we are talking scented soap (supposedly differing in chemical make-up for face and hair and body), sharp pieces of metal, artificial raspberry cream aerosoled out of aluminum, a plastic netty thing-a-ma-gig bunched up on a string, a stone for exfoliating soles, two kinds of conditioner (one everyday, one “deep moisturizer”), and hot pressurized water gushing from above my field of vision.  which is why i barely notice it is coming from a shower head.  much less realize that it was pumped from some tank from some pipes below the ground to some other tanks from some other tanks  (i have no idea how this works) connected to some water tower connected to some pumps connected to some treatment plant that treats the water to a bath that is pumped up from some magical underground lake.  it is amazing to me the people who throughout the centuries stood in a river, using a bit of soap that was made from a pig their child named when it was born though they told her not to.  there are so many steps and processes i don’t know.  i am alienated from my soap, from the land, from my own armpit.  what it would smell like or say after one week without belabored attention.  just let me be.  does it say that?  just leave me to my stink, get your razor out of my face, your scented soap and foam, suffocating chalk stick.  is it weird that when i sud up my hands in the kitchen sink, i want know the hellish squeal of a pig being slaughtered and my husband coming up behind me to nibble my ear with blood on his hands?    

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

emotional eating

For Lent
This year I am giving up
      spoonfuls of this 
            and that.
  Peanut butter, 
   seeds,         old
                 fashioned oats,
                ice cream,
            sour cream,
                     a spoonful of 
      soy sauce.  
This year I am giving 
                           up filling 
         that dainty

Friday, March 18, 2011

Matthew 5:29-30

Jesus said, perhaps upon a grassy knoll,

‘tis far better to pay

in eyeballs than pieces of your soul.

And let the loose left know not,

the right hand

clenched in bloody plot.

It is a small, small


Thursday, March 17, 2011

8 pieces of mutton

In the middle of an improv sketch at Monday’s practice, Josh told us a true story of a boy who caught his flip flops on fire after deliberately putting lighter fluid on the bottom. Alyssa asked how old he was.

Josh: He was eight years old.

Alyssa: He was idiot years old.

Skizz: He was awesome years old.

Natasha: Hey! Awesome is Spanish for eight!!!

*confused stares*

Natasha: I mean in Serbian! (which it is! It’s spelled “osam,” but pronounced the same.)

This took us into a whole discussion on language, specifically why animal flesh in English is often called different things based on whether it is alive or dead. Skizz told us that in 1066 the French invaded England, making the Anglo Saxons their servants. The servants would be the ones to slaughter the animals (words like sheep and cow are anglo saxon). The masters would be the ones to eat the dish (words like mutton and beef are French). I did not bother to check the validity of this on Wikipedia. All I know that is if it’s a lie, it’s the most interesting lie that I have heard in years so I don’t mind passing it along. We also never bothered to find out what happened to the boy with the shoes on fire. We only know that once he was osam, and now, if alive, eighteen.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

All mimsy were the borogoves..

The other day the 6 year old girl that I watch overheard her brother talking to the video game screen, “Hasta la vista, Baseball!” She came to me her eyes filled with wonder. After she recited the phrase with a hallowed reverence, she was visibly confused when I was not blown away. It’s hard to tell what it was about the words that fascinated her so much; perhaps it was their exotic sound or just the way it felt in her mouth to say it. All I know is that for the next half an hour, she ran around the house chanting to herself, “hastalavistabaseball, hastalavistabaseball, hastalavisatabaseball.”

When I write poetry, I try to remember the sounds of the words matter just as much as their meaning. It is a struggle, and I am often more intent on getting my ideas across. Perhaps I ought to enter into the world of words as one must enter the kingdom: as a child. All this to say, if you see me galloping around the room repeating the Jabberwocky over and over, you will know why.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Somnus II

Dear Sleep Hiring Staff,

I would like to be considered for the entry level R.E.M. position posted in my psychology text book. I have heard great things about the rejuvenating work that your international company has done throughout the world. The reputation of your tireless efforts to reach all peoples indiscriminate of gender, race, or class is an inspiration to millions.

I truly feel that I was made to work for your company. As an English Literature major, I am quite adept at moving my eyes back and forth at a rapid pace skimming assignments. This highlights another qualification which you listed in my textbook: laziness and the capacity to do nothing for long stretches of time. I am truly one of the laziest people I know. I am too lazy to ask others, but I am certain they would all say the same. As President of Insomniac’s Inc., I have been known to sit in front of a blank TV screen for hours, simply because I forget to grab the remote control sitting on the other couch.

Thank you for your consideration. I have been applying for years and while I am grateful for the part time work, I am interested in a more full time schedule, perhaps even in your Dreamer position. I am available to interview at your convenience and may be reached under the covers. If it is more convenient for you, I am not opposed to meeting during the day in one of my classes or during any “state of the relationship” address from my mom or girlfriend.

Sincerely yours,


Monday, March 14, 2011



There’s a dark room you will find

her, push past fur-lined shrouds draped

over raven discs until your mind

yawns you inside its wardrobed throat.

She slumbers on your bed.

You are your own child struck blind

within your childhood room, she

lays supine, her ears knifed out by

thoughts that grind upon the words

you wish you would have said.

So do not think thoughts’ groping whine,

whispered demands for her to Come! Sit

and wait, for stillness is a sleeper’s rind

that suffocates the grown-up tongue

still breathing in your head.

When you forget her, she’ll come behind

and place her tiny hands in the sockets

of your empty eyes and sign (into being)

rushing waters of the Lethe

in languages now dead.

This poem is dedicated to Karen, who inspired me to think about what happens on the cusp of sleep and the task of surrendering our worded burdens.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

the other one


On the ledge of no

edge losing El, the

“the” of father

parts of speech; making


El edges

for yes, aching back

across the si sink

(-ing), o, he no’s

the w“in”g of knowing

is a Kay. As in Oh Kay.

As in Sea.

As in For Sure.

For on the shore

line the trace-edge of “L ’

is a chair

with no legs you might

sit on to get her back

in time

if u were not

a legend

standing, on its edge,

about to let her fly two

some odd place u don’t

even know with only

u(no) wing.

Today I volunteered at a Hispanic church watching the toddlers, one of whom ran out of the room, into the sanctuary, and under the alter table where I had to try to coax him out in a language he may or may not have known, while the church watched on and gave me understanding smiles. Later during dinner, a guy came up behind me and squeezed my shoulders and gave me a kiss on the cheek. When he stepped back, he was obviously embarrassed, and said, "Oh! I'm sorry! I thought you were the other one!" By that, he meant the one other anglo girl, who happened to attend regularly. The whole two hours was incredibly awkward. I didn't know what to say, where to stand, or what was expected of me. I do know this though. Every once and a while it is good to be the "Other" one, and to remember how it feels not to be surrounded by people who know your language or culture. Even in that statement, I show my ethnocentricity. They know my language and culture; it's me that has never made many efforts to know theirs.

I probably won't go back. That's the truth. I didn't feel helpful at all and I didn't make any connections and I'm leaving in a couple months, so it feels like it's not worth the Saturdays or my effort. I don't want to leave you with a falsely beautiful lesson.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Parable on Obselescence

I love using the back of catalog cards to write down call numbers from the library computer. There’s something fascinating about the way its current use is based solely in its physical properties; it has nothing to do with the information it holds. It's similar to imagining ten years from now using iPhones as paper weights. However, now we throw things away so easily and they become obsolete so quickly, it’s hard to come up with a modern day equivalent. Perhaps one day we will sell library books in bundles for firewood. In fact, even the mere physicality of the catalog card is now obsolete. Yesterday I realized there is an option to get the call number texted to your phone. I opted instead to scribble the numbers down with a little yellow golf pencil on an old-fashioned card. When I flipped it over it read:


Agenda v.5 no. 1 January/February 1982 p.2, 15

We live in strange times my friends.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Prayer

Circumcise my ears, Lord Jesus,

with the knife of your

true Word, and let me hear and see you

holding my heart

like a mango,

ripe for your glory

and pleasure. Dawn on

me what you have said and what

you mean for me to hear

and do when I look

up from me and see your hand

moving in this world.

Yesterday I was shopping at Village Country Market picking up some onions, honey, eggs (the essentials, etc.) It was two o’clock and so there were not many people around. After paying and the normal pleasantries with the grocer, I looked down to gather my groceries when I heard a pleading voice, “how do you tell a good man to soften his heart?” I was instantly moved by her vulnerability and was lifting my head to say, “Oh sister! I don’t know!” when I saw that she was talking, not to me, but to the bagger. She was squeezing a mango. Then something magical happened. It was like a slow motion rewind/playback and I heard her perfectly, “how do you tell if a good mango is soft or hard?” I told them my mishearing and the three of us laughed (truly laughed) and I was glad I did not use a machine to check myself out.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Ash Wednesday

The Liar Speaks in Halfsies II

Remember that you are dust that lies

upon the bookshelves of the earth

a forgotten chore by a forgotten god

who never liked you much anyway.

This poem came out of me all of a sudden like a cough. It makes me wonder how long has it lived in me, lodged and leaking poison. It’s not a great, but it touches on a concept I find interesting: Satan can make us feel absolutely awful about contradictory lies. In the poem, God is dead, a non-existent historical artifact, and at the same time he doesn’t like you. I wonder just how many people, specifically lapsed Christians, carry around the weight of doubt while simultaneously carrying guilt and the suspicion that God hates them for no longer believing in Him.

Soon after I became a Christian, I remember sitting on the front porch steps crying. My friend came out and asked me what was wrong. “I know God loves me,” I choked out, “but I don’t think He likes me at all!”

Half true: He does love me. Half true: I am dust. Half true: God is dead.

Rest assured, however, in the rest of the story, which includes the plot twist that Christ is alive and that He likes you. He really, really likes you. A lot. I don’t mean to trivialize His love or bring it down to our colloquial level and sentimental hungers. But in some aspects of the definition, is the incarnation a trivialization of divine splendor? From the Latin, triviālis: “appropriate to the street-corner, commonplace, vulgar.” The Message translates part of the Johannine prologue, “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” Perhaps if Jesus moved into our neighborhood He might stand on street corners, talking to unsavory characters. And He would like them. A lot.

Your body, your dust, is not your own but grafted to and through the work of His dust. It is not yours to claim or even articulate outside of His expressed, express expressions of delight. So blow about, in the wind of the Spirit, like the beautiful and loved mote you are.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

A Fat Tuesday Devotional

The Liar Speaks in Halfsies (I)

Food is good and so are women

half-dressed feeding you food.

Glory in your shame for in the end

these are nothing but words.

10,000 hours

"How we spend out days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time...... There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet."- Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Today I spent 2 hours with a friend who introduced me to Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule. In a nutshell, Gladwell studied people this society would consider successful and discovered that you have to spend 10,000 hours in any given field if you want to become an expert, an "outlier." (Even a nutshell should be more complicated than that, but I'll leave the twisted little nut in its pod for now.)

10,000 hours is a long time. But it is a lot less than eternity, which is the number that I had previously been working with in regards to improving my skills as a writer. I left feeling encouraged (on multiple fronts) and a desire to continue to chip away at the monumental task before me, like a prisoner digging for freedom with a sharpened toothbrush. The difference is that, for the most part, I enjoy the digging. Perhaps I will dig for years only to end up in another prisoner's cell. So be it. I am seeking God's glory and not my own, which is a little frightening when you consider the vast range of human conditions that He has used to glorify Himself. Christ was an "outlier," not in worldly expertise like the Pharisees nor Roman success, but in suffering.

I hope to use this blog again as a mini-workshop, accountability, and structure for chipping away. I look at my previous posts back when I was so uncertain of the future, I see my similar state and think, "Hot damn! I really did dig only to come up three years later in another prison cell." Maybe. Maybe not. Here is a poem by Czeslaw Milosz I was introduced to three years ago.


Under a starry sky I was taking a walk,
On a ridge overlooking neon cities,
With my companion, the spirit of desolation,
Who was running around and sermonizing,
Saying that I was not necessary, for if not I, then someone else
Would be walking here, trying to understand his age.
Had I died long ago nothing would have changed.
The same stars, cities, and countries
Would have been seen with other eyes.
The world and its labors would go on as they do.
For Christ's sake, get away from me.
You've tormented me enough, I said.
It's not up to me to judge the calling of men.
And my merits, if any, I won't know anyway.

Perhaps only after the holy resignation Milosz describes can we pick back up the pieces and the hours of our lives, not to stand as judge but as a delighted steward, crafting our life and our art with tenacity and freedom.

My pastor once spoke on the parable of the talents and his former frustration that Jesus never addressed the possibility of a man who tried to invest his talents and failed. He suggested that perhaps in the divine economy there is no such thing as trying to invest for the kingdom and failing. What a concept.

9,999 hours to go.....