eight years later

They would be teenagers now,
those crusted-nose, mismatch-socked,
pig-tailed grinning first graders.

On December 14 there were presents already
hidden in closets and drawers of dressers
or out under the tree
(Santa gives gifts
but so do parents)
and I wonder,
what did parents do with those gifts
after December 14?
Ten days ’til Christmas Eve.

Were siblings giddy on Christmas morning,
and then stopped and remembered?
Did a mother forget a gift she’d bought and hid
in the upper left cupboard above the washer,
finding it three years later when the family packed to move
from Sandy Hook to Anywhere Else,
and with the thud of sudden remembrance
found herself trembling,
scraping at the tape,
sure and unsure of what was inside?

men / without milk stains on their shirts

Last year at this time, I was nursing a two-week-old and trembling, tossing, turning with anxiety instead of sleeping. A friend sent me a poem by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler, who asks if Mary breastfed Jesus and struggled with a painful latch. My phone shows I screenshot it at 3:17 a.m.

3:17 a.m. is a time stamp familiar to those nursing newborns and grinding their teeth into the night guard they wear, familiar as well to those lying not sleeping nearby. I saved the poem because I felt it saved me.

Six hours later I took this photo:

It wasn’t the only milk stain photo I would take in those upended first weeks.

And yes, visits to a lactation consultant can help, but the reality of nursing can look very different than the paintings of a serene Madonna.

Did Mary have to configure concoctions of pillows?

Here’s the full poem, with link below:

sometimes I wonder
if Mary breastfed Jesus.
if she cried out when he bit her
or if she sobbed when he would not latch.

and sometimes I wonder
if this is all too vulgar
to ask in a church
full of men
without milk stains on their shirts
or coconut oil on their breasts
preaching from pulpits off limits to the Mother of God.

but then i think of feeding Jesus,
birthing Jesus,
the expulsion of blood
and smell of sweat,
the salt of a mother’s tears
onto the soft head of the Salt of the Earth,
feeling lonely
and tired
hungry
annoyed
overwhelmed
loving 

and i think,
if the vulgarity of birth is not
honestly preached
by men who carry power but not burden,
who carry privilege but not labor,
who carry authority but not submission,
then it should not be preached at all. 

because the real scandal of the Birth of God
lies in the cracked nipples of a
14 year old
and not in the sermons of ministers
who say women
are too delicate
to lead.

– Kaitlin Hardy Shetler

100-word story

This is a great genre — it forces you to be succinct, to be economical with your words. The deal is, you get exactly 100 words — no more, no fewer — to tell your story. Some of these are fiction, some non. Mine is non:

Carriage

Grateful they published this piece, especially as this week we come up on the one-year anniversary of the miscarriage.

a poem by Ted Kooser

Winter Morning Walks

He wrote these poems while receiving cancer treatment that made his skin sensitive to the sun. If he wanted to take a daily walk, he had to do so in the dark.

I read these poems four years ago, on increasingly dark mornings. I read them slowly, aloud, while taking slow steps around my bedroom. I came across one I copied in my journal on October 22, 2014. Will God grace me with a marriage someday, I’d asked, — a good one? Will my childhood self finally know what she has only daydreamed about? Will it be all she hoped?

december 29

     Windy and cold.

All night, in gusty winds,
the house has cupped its hands around
the steady candle of our marriage,
the two of us braided together in sleep,
and burning, yes, but slowly,
giving off just enough light so that one of us,
awakening frightened in darkness,
can see.

Someday, I wrote. Someday.

The Flat

prompt from my online writing course:

Describe a place that was meaningful for you, positive or negative. It could be a positive emotion or a negative emotion that you have for the place. Rules:

  1. No dialogue.
  2. No describing emotions.
  3. No backstory.

A thin mattress, set on a thin metal frame, served as the living room couch. A lockable metal trunk, forest green, served as a bench. Inside were bags of flour, and inside those were tiny lines that crawled.

A dusty metal bookshelf stood in the corner, with used books: a Wendell Berry novel, The Brothers Karamazov, and a small meditation on how to practice lovingkindness. Guides to “Scorpions and Spiders of the Sub-Sahara,” with their real-life photographs, were not displayed with spines out. They hid in the box a pocket-sized Bible came in.

Some doors were missing doorknobs; loops of yarn were tied to the holes. The toilet, too, was missing its knob; there was yarn in the tank, looped around the handle. The shower head emitted a thin stream of cold water, though in the baked month of January, the water was lukewarm.

Flip-flops stayed at either entrance to the flat. The floors, gritty before and after each mopping, smelled like lemon. Sometimes the toilet tank was filled with the cloudy water leftover from mopping or washing clothes, so when you flushed the toilet, it smelled like diluted cleaning solution. A trail of chalky sediment lined the bright blue plastic bucket after each pour.

In the kitchen, a trash bag hung over a pipe on the wall, and a calendar hung above that. The calendar was peppered with brown spots from the brown bugs that congregated around the trash bag. Spots freckled the shelves of canned goods, too.

Taped to the cement of the walls were handwritten excerpts from Psalm 42:


Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my help and my God.

The lettering was red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, rainbow.

my most recent marginalia

Thanks to this guy for introducing me to the term “marginalia.” Here are some recent markings:

Daniel Generation
from Daniel Generation, by Jolene Cassellius Erlacher

Thanks to this gal for being my friend and for publishing a book.

Cost of Discipleship
from The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

[He uses the phrase “natural responsibilities,” “natural ordinances of life,” which got me thinking — what could be a more natural responsibility than raising kids? It is, indeed, a high priority — perhaps even an ideal. Yet if the Christian life is simply another priority, another ideal among several, then might the two compete? Another way to ask the question: If it were more faithful not to have kids, would I be willing not to?]

Present Over Perfect
from Present Over Perfect, by Shauna Niequist

Then sometimes the books talk to each other:

talk to each other
from Liturgy of the Ordinary, by Tish Harrison Warren

And still other times I just correct grammar.

typo

advice from a woman born in 1891

Brenda Ueland at age 47 - 2

Brenda Ueland excerpt
The footnote’s theology: beautiful.

The page above is an excerpt from Chapter X, Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing.

Brenda Ueland Chapter X

The book smells like the crackling-spine Berenstain Bears books I used to get from the library. It has the crackling-spine sound, too. I like to smell books right in the neck, in the heart, at the top. Ink and page and dust and shelf. Worn, musty carpet and metal shelf dividers. Must. Inhale. Books. I love the rubber-stamped address marking the book’s rightful place, and the thick paper.

Our little community college library lets any local resident get a card, and I leave there wanting to kiss every librarian for her goodness.

Brenda Ueland library stamps

Nearly thirty years of hopeful writers did what I did today: stood at the counter and waited as a librarian crackled the back cover and stamped the stamp. I hope the library filled them, and Ueland filled them, writing filled them.