I Am Frances

This is my writing assignment from the third week of Jonathan Rogers’ Flannery O’Connor class. He assigned us to remember a smell, to allow that smell to bring up a memory, and then to follow that into more memories. Once we had gone as far as we could, we were to think about what was missing from those memories and write about that. What i wrote flowed from my smell-memories, but it also flowed from some other gloaning i’ve been doing lately, gloaning that rose up out of conversations about local idiom, my tendency to abstraction, and the movie Inside Out.

I Am Frances

The first thing I remember is the smell of chocolate stickers. I don’t recall how old I was or where we lived at the time, which is both a shame and a surprise.

I live in a moving country of my own making, shaped by my family’s constant moving. I walk the pages of picture books. I sail dreamlands of many authors’ making. The landscape of this country is made of allusions. The stars are characters and the constellations are drawn from many worlds. I have traveled far enough to touch Orion, but I have never yet returned to the well-trodden path. And already, if you’ve read the same stories, you can see inside my head and know that the words which define my homeland are not my own.

The house with the chocolate stickers is lost to me. My memories are all ordered by the house we lived in from year to year, but I recall neither the shape nor the layout nor which storybook character lived with me in that house. If the house is lost, that year is lost. There is a gap in my childhood.

When I was small I was Frances the Badger.

Frances feared the wind at night. She felt unfairness. She, too, had a little sister. She, too, was misunderstood. She, like me, was crafty and not always honest. She also sailed imaginary worlds. And, like me, she was well-loved and safe—although she, like me, felt apart. We both lived in one world while straining against its borders for another. We both ran away from home, and we both poured our hearts into imagination and song and felt justified when no-one understood. I was Frances because nobody else—not my sister, not my parents, not my friends—was me. From Frances I learned my own borders.

Where did I live when my mother made me my very own Frances-the-Badger stuffed wiggly snake? In my head, I suppose; in one story or another. That house is lost to me, too. But the dreamland I sailed is there still, and I am still discovering its borders. I still have that stuffed wiggly snake, and pastel green and orange still remind me of what it felt like to learn that I was myself and nobody else.

Books are good and pictures, too

They can tell me what is true

Trees outside and snakes and things

Are not as real as what I think.

Plinketty, plinketty, plinketty, plink.

A new writing class and an old ache

Three things happened today, all about writing. The first is that Jonathan Rogers’ Writing With Flannery O’Connor class started. The second was a Rabbit Room post which pierced me through. More

A few sentences

Last summer i began writing a short story about a hailstorm. Today i pulled it out again to reacquaint myself with it—i mean to finish it this summer. Here are a few sentences, none of which i remember writing.

“He still called it a river, although the strict definition of a river involved water and thus he was stretching the truth somewhat.”

“But the drought had driven [the fireflies] away. They could not breed in the dust of the riverbed; their lights dimmed and went out, and the long years since had lost something of their magic. The earth became simply earth, the grass withered and grew yellow, and silence descended into muteness. The earth had stopped speaking.”

“The screen door screeched and banged again, protesting against the work for which it was created.”

“When it came, the thunderclap was loud enough to shake the house, and drops of rain fat as field mice fell from the sky like the sudden descent of the apocalypse.”

“His skin tingled with the charge in the air; the hair on his head and his arms stretched toward the heavens as if pleading with the black clouds to stop their vicious assault.”

“And still the hail poured from the heavens as if it desired the land below, as if no speed was adequate to the joy of arrival.”

A poem in progress, part 1

i have no idea how to edit poetry. It feels like nonsense. Isn’t poetry a matter of my heart springing up? Can such a thing be edited? Well, yes, and i am going to attempt it. In this post, i will transcribe a poem i have just written, a first draft. i know there’s something wrong with it. In particular, i don’t care for the third strophe. So i will come back to it over and over until i am satisfied with it, and i will post that process here so that i don’t get distracted and forget that i mean to work on this.

i wake in the waking of the world
The darkness flees the coming of the voice of the L-RD.
i yawn. i stretch my arms.
i watch the light come.
He calls it sun.

We dance, this world and i, to watch Him work.
We spin again, and the shoots leap up.
All is golden, all is green.
The darkness comes again and again,
But it is not fearful now.
It is restful, peaceful, safe,
and morning comes again
to say that all is well.
All is joy.

We spin again, this world and i,
and wonders rise and fill the earth.
i leap for wonder, laugh with pleasure.
And when we spin again,
a new thing yawns.
He stretches his arms.
So like the L-RD in countenance,
so unlike in form; his glory is reflected.
And i love him.

Astute readers may find allusions to two Petersons in this poem. It sort of just happens. We’ll see if those bits survive the editing process. Can i make this poem fully mine? Is there any such thing as “mine” without the voices of the poets i have known? (Look, i did it again.) i have more to say on that subject, but it can wait.

Bonus points to anyone who can identify the speaker.

High Noon in the Valley of the Shadow

The air shimmers with heat as the camera pans, taking in the dusty red desert and the windswept blue sky. It settles on a man wearing long leather chaps, gun belt slung low on his hips. There’s a soft jingle of spurs as the focus shifts to a outlaw, all dressed in black, facing him twenty paces away. The outlaw shifts his balance and his fingers twitch above his holster. The look on his face—is it murder, or is it fear? The focus shifts back to the gunslinger standing with shoulders relaxed, unperturbed, humor in his eyes. He tips his hat.

The acrid taste of gunpowder stains the air, and before the smoke fades the outlaw’s on his black horse, riding it hard out of town. The camera spins past faces in the storefront windows to a freckled young boy yelling victoriously, hurling rock after rock after this beaten man—“Go on! Don’t you come back again!” Newsboy cap, dirty white shirt under suspenders, pants too short,  dusty black leather shoes. He’s been playing at Gunslinger for years already. His pistol’s fake, but he knows how to use it. And he knows he doesn’t need it. All he needs are these rocks, the triumph in his heart, and the victor behind him. He shouts insults, daring the outlaw to come back and fight like a man. He knows his town’s protected and he’s got nothing to fear.

Crank it up. Close your eyes. When you hear the boy shout, take up your rocks and shout with him.

He is risen. Death’s been defeated.
The stories are true.

In celebration of Easter, Andrew is giving away a free download of this song on his Facebook page.

Simon the Zealot at the Cross

The worst that could have happened
has happened—and more.
You were to save us.
And now what is left but fishing and tax-collecting?

i look around and see no-one to help,
So my own arm will work salvation for me.
i must put this despair somewhere.
i must put this anger somewhere.
i need to put this helplessness somewhere.

If Your arm is too short to save,
Surely mine is shorter,
but i have to do something, something—

But not tonight.
Tonight, just let me die with You.

Imagines Dei

Lilting, rumbling, clattering, murmuring.
We are alive here,
little vessels of glory,
moving past and around and through
each other.
Windows into Your majesty,
even in our fumbling,
our falling,
our bandaged oozing,
our lies.
Make us new.
Make us alive.
You alone bear life in Your veins,
and You pour it forth.
It flows over, and fills in
our emptiness, covers over
our wicked places,
our horrors.
And You sing.
The lilting is Your voice,
weaving grace.

Written while studying in my “office” cafe, music in the background, surrounded by little, broken, beautiful images of G-d. Strangers to me. People He loves.

i am a murderer

“Fin was lost. She pulled the trigger.”

i’m rereading A.S. Peterson’s The Fiddler’s Gun, and it’s hurting me. The first time, i read it aloud with my husband. This time, i am sinking into it alone. But the things that hurt most about this book are not the things i expected.

i know already the losses and lostness in this story. i know who dies, who wishes they did, who should have but didn’t. i know Fin’s loneliness and i know where it comes from. i know her sin. i know the sins against her. i know who’s to blame.

What hurts me about this story is the idea that someone i respect and trust created a person, utterly dependent upon himself, and then he hurt her. He spent ten years hurting her.

This hurts me because i also have created a girl, one who is utterly dependent upon me, and i am hurting her. i’m not done hurting her.

When Fin pulls the trigger, my chest opens up, and one thought pounds in my heart: i am a murderer.

i am a murderer.

i too am a murderer.

i hurt for Fin as she loses herself, but i do not identify with her. i identify with her maker. We are responsible for these lives we’ve made, and we have dealt falsely with them. We are unjust.

Whatever sin is in them, we put there. They act on it—neither of them are innocent. They make their own choices—a mystery i can never hope to explain, one that wonders me as often as it grieves me. They act on their impulses in their own volitional ways. But we are responsible.

It is glory for us to create, to make beings in our image as our Creator has made us. But our image is marred by sin that we cannot wash away. We, like they, need a redeemer.

i know that Fin’s maker means to redeem her. i know my own heart toward my girl; i long to redeem her. Redemption requires death. i know this. We never hurt these people because we don’t love them. We hurt them because there’s no way to make them beautiful, glorious, righteous, without bringing them to the end of themselves. i know Fin’s maker wept over her. i have wept over Rixi as well. Am i justified by my tears? When we are finished, will she understand?

For Rixi’s sake as well as my own, i need for Fin to be redeemed. i know where the story will take her and how her hurts and losses and sins will be addressed. But it is excruciating to get her there.

Rixi, no power in Nirth or in all of creation—nothing but your own will—will prevent me from turning all your pain to beautiful. Please let me redeem you.

Thank G-d i am but a subcreator.

Mysterious mist

A thin mist is rolling in the parking lot, scudding along the ground. This has been going on for hours. When i went out to my car earlier i discovered it curling around my ankles, sliding past me to grace the underbellies of the vehicles, and it made me jump and dance.

The gossamer gauze moves slowly over the ground.
Rolling, running, like a silent steady sigh.
The breath of some winter wyrm lying low, belly pressed against the pavement.
Ominous monarchial mist, mysterious exhalation.


Second semester starts tomorrow. i stand on the stairtop and look out over the flight to come. There will be a breaking, and there will be a soaring. i know this, and i embrace them both.

i have turned my back on my turning back.

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