Filtering by Tag: writing

landing

I have this obsession with “sticking the landing” — so do pilots and gymnasts. TV show-runners to a lesser extent. Children pretending the ground is hot lava and using pillows as rocks to carve out safe passage — they’re most concerned with sticking the landing. 

I don’t write because I fear I’ll be imperfect — because the first draft is, in Anne Lamott’s words, “shitty.” In her writing book Bird by Bird, she says that “very few writers really know what they are doing until they've done it.” 

I begin with the inclination to write, though some would use —

(employ/deploy/conjure) 

— stronger words —

(fiercer nomenclature/more pointed jargon/more vibrant images)

— to describe — 

(illuminate/give life to/chart out)

Damnit. 

Doing it again. 

I don’t write — I don’t speak — don’t extend myself in conversation — don’t show my anger — because I’m afraid I’ll be crooked or incomplete with my answer. I want my words to emerge fully formed, shining-shimmering-splendid. I want my words to captivate, like people watching the ball drop in Times Square in New Year’s Eve. 

I want my anger and my conversation to be symphonic.

I don’t want to confess what I don’t know. I don’t want to have to double-back and rephrase my answer, or swallow my answer entirely so that someone else has space to correct me and show me where I was wrong.

I’m afraid to let the words out of the yard and be a good-and-proper free-range linguist because I fear the reaction of others — and that’s a terrible way to live. An essay or a blog or a text message or a letter to a loved one shouldn’t feel like a game of “Operation,” but to me, that’s what it feels like. 

Which is why a text message conversation is, at times, exhausting for me. It has nothing to do with me not wanting to talk to the person, and everything to do with me attempting to end-around the other person’s reactions and words. 

*

Bring what you’ve got, says Padre.

“But I don’t believe that’s enough,” I reply.

Enough for what?

“For the post to go viral. For the essay to win me an award. For people to read this and like me and follow me and never be upset by a thing I say.”

Is that why you write? Is that why I made you to write? Why I made you to live and move and breathe?

“…No.”
Sorry, couldn’t hear that last bit; was hopping across lava rocks. What’d you say?

“I said ‘no.’ That’s not why I write.”
Ah. Got it. So why then?

“Because it’s communion. Because when I write I’m with you.”
Fishes and loaves, poopsie.

“Poopsie? Only my mom still calls me that.”
Your mom still calls you ‘poopsie?’

“Yeah.”
Good for her.



This I Know to be True

These are the things I know to be true. 
I am made of music. 
I am a storyteller. 
Sometimes I do not live up to that calling. 
Sometimes I am the best firefighter and the worst flame. 
Sometimes I am the best hunter and the worst prey. 
Sometimes I sing the song I know sounds within me 24/7.

These are the things I know to be true. 
I am a bad detective. 
I have a subjective view point, and that means sometimes I don’t consider elements of an event that other people consider to be vitally important. 
I trespass. 

These are the things I know to be true. 
I am commanded to love people I don’t always love, including myself.
Sometimes I let myself off the hook of loving others.
Sometimes I let myself off the hook of loving myself. 
I am skilled at letting myself on and off the hook, getting on and off the wagon.

These are the things I know to be true. 
I have olive skin. 
In time, the skin will wrinkle. My skin is not impenetrable. My skin, like a flag, like a quilt, is not a shield, is not a mask. 
My skin, like a flag, like a quilt, tells a story.

These are the things I know to be true.
My grandfather had skin made of stories. 
I miss my grandfather.
My grandfather is dead. 

These are the things I know to be true. 
Sometimes I don’t take care of myself as well as I know how to do.
Sometimes I ignore God’s voice within me because I don’t want the responsibility.
Sometimes I don’t want the responsibility of storytelling. 
Sometimes I don’t want the responsibility of friendship. 
Sometimes I don’t want the responsibility of forgiving people I don’t want to forgive, including myself. 

These are the things I know to be true. 
I have a heart made with love. 
I have a heart made of love.
I have a heart made to give love, to receive love. 

These are the things I know to be true. 
I need help. 
I need help. 
I need help. 

Amen. 
Amen. 
Amen. 

 

Yad Ha'Elohim -- The Hand of God

Abinadab had gathered with the rest of the crowd. He stretched and pushed and shoved and shouted, “Uzzah, My son! My son! He carries the ark! He carries the ark as we celebrate its homecoming!”

He saw his son astride the ark. “My son!” Shouted Abinadab. “My son who guides the ark!”         For years, the ark of the covenant had been lost. Philistines had taken it, but the ark had, without the hand of man, destroyed the idols of the Philistines. False gods were, simply by being in the presence of it, beheaded and toppled. For years, the ark had rested in the house of Abinadab, and King David requested the ark return to Jerusalem.

The ark neared Abinadab. “My son!” He shouted. “I must see my son!” There was commotion in the crowd, all eager to press in and see the ark of the covenant up close. He shoved and was shoved sharp from behind. The air shot up out of him; skyward, as doves. His vision blurred. He stumbled.

There was a shout, and then a scream. 

When Abinadab regained footing and focus, the crowd was silent.

And in that silence, Abinadab noticed he felt different than before — something was missing. His hand, on instinct, reached for his chest. He felt it beat once, twice. He traced no wound or gape along his skin — but something had been removed. 

He paused to pray, and in a flash, the words rushed up from his heart and out between his lips —

“My son!” He shouted. “Uzzah, my son! I must see my son!” Trembling and panicked, he pushed through the crowd, now as motionless as reeds on a windless day.

He pushed through to the front. He saw first the oxen, and then the ark of the covenant.

And then his eyes tracked downward, where his son lay; dead in the dust. 

He fell. 

He fell to the feet of his son and gathered Uzzah to himself. 

“My son,” he wept. “My son who carries the ark. Speak to me, my beloved. Speak.”

*    *    *

Abinadab sat and lamented of Uzzah’s death to his friend. “Years have we watched over the ark. We are Kish, descendants of the tribe of Levi, chosen by God to watch and protect the sacred objects of Yahweh. Why would the wrath of His hand extend toward those he commanded to watch over the ark?”

“We do not know the ways of God,” replied his friend. “Uzzah sinned, Abinadab. God is holy, and Uzzah touched the ark.”
“Yes, because it was falling.”
“It is the dwelling place of God.”

Abinadab nodded. “From the days of Moses, adorned with cherubim, yes. I taught my sons to know the ark and love it. Who do you take me for?” Abinadab stood and paced in the room. “Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood— two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. He overlaid it with pure gold, both inside and out, and made a gold molding around it. He cast four gold rings for it and fastened them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. He made the atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. Then he made two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. He made one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; at the two ends he made them of one piece with the cover. The cherubim had their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim faced each other, looking toward the cover.”

Abinadab crouched and held the hands of his friend. “I have seen the space between the cherubim. I taught my sons to listen for the presence — for the song of God. I taught them to love Him and seek Him.”

“I know, Uzzah." His friend said. "I know. But if you have seen the space between the cherubim, if you know the sound and shine of hammered gold, then you also know the power and might of Elohim. You know the Hand that held back the waters, the Hand that washed away Pharaoh, the hand that opened the earth and swallowed the house of Korah.”
“Should my beloved have allowed that which he loves to fall, then? Would you have reached out?”
“I do not ask such questions.”
“Why? Because you fear the answer?”
“I have nothing to fear. I keep the commandments of the Lord, and I know the Lord is good.”
“Yes, yes —" said Abinadab. "I too believe He is good. He brought our people out of Egypt. He freed us from the bonds of slavery and Pharaoh’s horse and rider were hurled into the sea.

He guided us through the wilderness, though we forged a golden calf and forsook his commands. We transgressed, and those who transgressed were not allowed to enter the promised land. 

Even Moses, a beloved, in anger struck the stone, and by his wrath removed himself from the land. Even Moses, whom God used to free our ancestors, could not — because of sin — enter the land.

And then Joshua led us into the land. But upon crossing the Jordan, we had to wait upon the Lord for guidance and for his glory to be known. Joshua took the soldiers and marched around the city for seven days. On the seventh day, they gave a great shout, and Jericho’s strongholds fell away.

The Lord proves faithful. Kings go to war, prophets seek wisdom, the teachers and the priests seek out his presence where he may be found. Blood is shed, and God speaks — in whispers, in full-throated song.

The Lord is good, and He brought the ark back to the city. He has condoned the violence of David, our king — the bloodshed of Joshua, a great warrior, and the violence of the Sea, the hunger and the gaping mouth of the Sea which swallowed Pharaoh and his mighty army.

The Lord is good, and my son is dead because he loved Him and reached out in a time of need.”

Abinadab walked to the window. “When I held Uzzah, I remembered how I would find him at rest, close to the ark. I scolded him, because I knew it was dangerous. ‘I want to hear Him,’ he said. ‘I want to hear God.’ Tears formed in Abinadab’s eyes. “Did not Samuel sleep at the base of the ark? Did he not care for the ark, spurred on by love? And did he not, one night, hear God speak?”   

 “Abinadab, friend — please. You were wrong to keep the ark in your home. You know this.”

“Yes, I was wrong. Yes, I was reckless. But did not even those who cast the calf out of the fire, they were forced to drink their sin, but they too, they were still permit to choke praise from their lungs? How were they preserved and allowed to praise the Father — but my son, spurred by love, was struck down ?” 

At this, Abinadab’s friend fell silent.

*    *    *

Late, when all were asleep. Abinadab could not rest. He left his bed, and stood in the front room. He listened for any animals or footsteps outside. 

Silence. Abinadab prayed. 

I want to speak your name as I would a friend — but you are not my friend. 
You are my God. My creator. 
From dust have I been drawn, and it is dust that draws me now.

I wish to know the reasons behind your ways — which is blasphemy. 
I wish to call you by your name and pull you close — which is blasphemy. 

I wish to question you and doubt you — which is blasphemy. 

So then, God Almighty, my teacher, you know me, and my heart, and my name — 
and now you know what I wish for — what I long for — 
I pray for blasphemy. 

Amen.

The Good Shepherd

    He entered the house, shook his head. “Your son, again.”

    Without looking up, she tsked-tsked with her tongue. “Our son, again.”

    “He loves you more.”

    “He loves you as well.”

    “He never says it.”

    “Because he doesn’t know the words yet.” She turned to face her husband. “You are a good teacher. You care about about his learning, yes?”

    “I do.”

    “Because you want him to be a good shepherd, yes?”
    Adriel sighed and glanced back out the entrance, before returning his focus to his wife. “He lost some sheep. I found all but one. We’ve been searching, but…” He shook his head. 

    She nodded. “Where is he?”

    “Outside, I think. I shouted at him, and told him to wait until I allowed him to enter.”

    Galila put her hands to her husband’s cheek, and with her thumbs, she traced crescents under his eyes — back and forth, back and forth, like tidewaters from the sea. She pulled his head down and kissed his forehead.

    “You, my love, are a good shepherd. You sit. I’ll go talk to him.”

    

    *    *    *

    

    “Nechemya,” she called. “Nechemya, where are you?”

    Silence. Galila took a few steps, noting the sound of the rocks beneath her sandals. “Nechemya, it’s your mother. Come sit with me.” She sat on the edge of the well, and exhaled. “It’s beautiful this evening, no? Why don’t we sit together?”

    Silence. Galila looked down at her hands, flipped them once, twice, then slid off the edge of the well and sat down on the ground. She rested against the well. “I’m going to tell you a story, Nechemya. Is that alright?” She waited, but heard no response.
    “Once, I lived in a town. This is before you were born, before I knew your father. When Roman soldiers rode through the village, they would ask for wine. I would serve them wine.”

    Galila picked up a small pebble, held it in her palm. “They would ask for other things as well…and I would give them those other things. Because they could make life bad for me if I said no.” She closed her fingers over the pebble, turning her hand into a fist. “You understand this, Nechemya? There was no choice.” Her breath, heavier now. “But people in the town, they disapproved. They wanted to teach me I was wrong to do what I did.” She paused. “So, one morning they — ”

    “Teach, mama…like the way papa teaches?”

    Galila turned her eyes right, and she saw Nechemya, her son. He held his shepherd’s staff loose. He didn’t stand still, but instead shifted his weight from side to side. 

    “Why do you do that, Nechemya? You sway like a reed.”

    “I don’t like to stand still, mama.”
    Galila opened her fist, and re-examined the pebble. She dropped it. “Nechemya, my love.”
    Nechemya approached and sat next to his mother.

    She smiled. “Papa teaches out of love. But the people who wanted to teach me — they were angry. They took me from my house. I shouted for help, but no one stopped them. They brought me to the feet of a Teacher in the square. I’d been accused of a crime, but they weren’t sure how I should be punished.”

    “What did the Teacher say?”

    Galila smiled. Her finger traced a winding path in the sand. “He said nothing. He drew.”
    “What’d he draw, mama?”

    “He drew a tree. He asked me what kind it resembled. ‘It looks like an olive tree, Teacher.’ I said. ‘Is it an olive tree?’”

    Nechemya shifted closer to his mother. “What’d he say?”
    Galila shrugged. “He told me about how he knew many people who’d sat under trees. ‘Friends, Teacher?’ I asked. He nodded. ‘Yes, child. Friends.’ He told me about one person who sat under a tree, and ravens came to him with food. This man was tired and near death, and he was afraid — but the tree provided shade and shelter from the sun. As he sat, ravens visited him and kept him alive with food, and the nearby river gave him water to drink.

    As he told me this story, he drew the wings of the raven. ‘Do you have a favorite bird?’ He asked. ‘No, Teacher.’ I replied. ‘The birds,’ he said, ‘the birds provide shelter and safety for their offspring with their wings. When a predator comes, the birds spread their wings wide and gather their young to their breast. Here, they are safest.’”

    Galila extended her arm and draped it over her son. Nechemya glanced at his mother’s hand at his side, and smiled. “What happened next, mama?”

    “Next, he wrote his name — the name of God.”

    Nechemya’s eyes opened wide. “But that name must not be said. It is blasphemy.”

    She nodded. “Yes. But what if it’s God who’s doing the writing?” Nechemya said nothing. Galila continued making a path with her finger. “Other people before him claimed to the Messiah, my love. And afterward, people after him have claimed to be the Messiah. They come from dust, they claim to be the Messiah, and then the dust claims them back.”

    “Did he die?”

    “Yes.” Galila thought of the hill. She thought of the storm and the blood and the crown. “Yes, he did.” She wiped a tear from her cheek. “But the dust did not claim him.” 

    “What’d he say — when he wrote his name?”

    “He — ” Galila stopped, laughed. “He started humming; singing even.” 

    “What’d he sing?”

    “Do you remember the song I sang while you were falling asleep?”

    “Yes.”

    She kissed her son on the forehead. “That’s His song.”
    Her son smiled. But when he looked back at the house, his smile fell from his face. 

    “Why now are you sad, my son? I thought my story made you glad.”

    “Father hates me.”

    “He’s angry about the lost animals, but he loves you.”

    “Do you believe that?”

    “When he’s out with the animals, keeping them safe, he’s finding the words to tell you how much he loves you. When he’s repairing the walls of our home, with each movement of his hand, he’s building the words, casting the words.”

    Galila leaned close to whisper. “And when he sits alone in the room, as he does now, he prays for words, for help — and like manna, the words fall into his lap. Everything he does, he’s learning how to say ‘I love you.’”

    “I don’t think I’m going to be a good shepherd.”
    Galila paged through the hairs on her son’s head. Specs of dust kicked up in the air. “Do you want to be a shepherd?”

    “I do.”

    “Do you want to care for the animals?”

    “I do.”

    Galila put her hands to her son’s cheeks and, with her thumbs, drew crescents underneath her son’s eyes — back and forth, back and forth, like tidewaters from the sea. She kissed him on the forehead.

    “Go back to where you last remember having all the sheep, and start there. Look in the shaded areas, in the cracks of rocks — in the shadows of the mountains.”

    “Yes, mama.”

    He stood to leave, and headed toward the pasture. 

    “Nechemya,” she said. “If you’re still having trouble finding the sheep…sing.”

The Basket Weaver

“I do not believe your stories,” she thought to herself. “All the promises of Father Abraham, the promises of Israel — how we are a mighty nation, more numerous than the stars.”

“And yet,” she thought, “Here we are — enslaved. Here we are, building monuments for kings we’re not supposed to serve, for gods whose names are not supposed to rest on our lips.” 

“Perhaps you grow angry when we choose to worship other gods we know to be grotesque or fickle, other gods we know to be made of stone.”

“Perhaps you would also forgive us our frustration for generations of silence.” 

“My father’s father did not hear you. He sowed love and reaped nothing. He toiled, and prayed, and grew crooked with work, and he did not hear from you. When he died, he told us of the words his father’s father heard from you — those words passed down from his father’s father.”

“See how far we must reach back to speak of when we spoke with you?"
"See how trembling our hands are as we reach back into dark?”

“How more joyful might we be to hear your words fresh on our ears as rain — like hot coals might your presence seem to our unaccustomed skin.” 

“But I can learn, Elohim. We can learn if you speak to us.” 

“I am not proud of these bricks, but these are the things I see. I am not proud of these idols, but these are the things I know.”  

“What is worse, Adonai — to worship a God you know is false, or to love a God you know to be real but who refuses to speak?”

“We are told our ancestors wrestled angels, and saw visions of ladders ascending to heaven. You gave them dreams that saved from jail and protected us from famine. They made covenants with you and built arks for you. They walked with you in gardens.” 

“You turned us to salt and provided a sacrifice to save Isaac.”
“You flooded the earth and painted colors across the sky.”
“And now, we are steeped in mud. We are entombed in lives that are not our own.” 
“Still, we pray. And our masters think us foolish.”
“Still, we pray. And I think us foolish also.” 
“But I believe, still.”

+    +    + 

She thought as she wove, and she prayed, and she wept. 

The child fought against the swaddling. She tucked the cloth back and rested her hand on his shoulder. “Peace, Moses. Peace. Your mother loves you. Your mother loves you so much.”

She paused, and noticed her hands, scratched and coarse due to the weaving of the reeds, held against his soft skin; against his unblemished face. “Though I will not see him grow,” she thought, “at least he will have something in common with me…”

“…He will not know the touch or voice of the one who claims to love him most…”
“…He will have to believe as I believe.”

And then, still weeping, she closed the basket. 

porcelaing

     Sometimes, the world — specifically, climate change — scares the hell out of me, and I feel like hiding.
     Sometimes, the world — specifically, climate change, Donald Trump’s impending presidency and the threat of nuclear war — scares the hell and the ever-loving shit out of me, and I feel like hiding and burying myself alive.
     Sometimes, the world — specifically, climate change, Donald Trump’s presidency, the threat of nuclear war, plane travel, the web of responsibilities associated with home ownership, my near-crippling negative self-view, my dissatisfaction with the eat-drink-be-happy-but-if-you’re-not-happy-here’s-netflix-and-that-should-do-the-trick-until-tomorrow idea of living, my near-constant Eeyore-cloud-heart-steering belief that we’ve broken the world and that I broke myself along with it, and no one, myself included, is ever going to be fucking okie-dokie, a-okay, right-as-rain regardless of how hard anyone tries— all of that scares the hell and the ever-loving shit and the absolute fucking life out of me, and I feel like hiding and burying myself alive and wishing I could give back every breath I ever-ever-ever took.
     Sometimes I am so scared of everything being so much bigger and faster than I am that I feel like the only logical response is freezing and letting everything else pass me. 
     Sometimes I’m so scared I’m PETRIFIED.
     But you know what helps?
     Cereal.

+ TWO +

     Yeah, I mean, the kid’s stuff — Frosted Flakes, Cocoa Puffs, Honey Nut Cheerios, etc. Cereal makes me feel better, because it’s sweet and delicious and it reminds me of a time where none of the things that scared me dominated my thought process. It makes me think of a time where one of my best friends and I split a whole box of cereal over the course of an afternoon. We talked and laughed and ate cereal, and that was as complicated as the day got.
     It’s a defense mechanism, a comfort food, and emotional concealment.
     But sometimes, the wolves are bigger and badder and huffier and puffier than any castle of cereal I could make. Sometimes the wolves cross the moat without any problem and tear a hole in the cereal walls, and Tony the Tiger hurries back with a report, raving to me that “They’re Grrrrrrowling at the door!! They’re going to break in any second! Wwwwwwwwwhat do we do?!”
     And then I’m gone, hiding again. 
     Deeper and deeper down the rabbit hole. 

+ THREE +

     Writing — storytelling — aches and dreams shared with a community — a campfire. 
     It’s what I always go back to — it’s been my love language for decades now. There’re journals filled with stories, stories I haven’t shared. A library of caged birds. And why?
     Because of the wolves, that’s why. 
     The wolves are the ones who piss on the campfires and swallow the birds. If I let the birds go, the wolves will devour them, and they’ll put out the fire, and I won’t have anywhere to go. I won’t have anything to say.
     I love to write, and I love storytelling, and I know storytelling’s in my marrow — but I’m afraid.
     Why?
     Because it feels like the world needs storytelling like it needs a hole in the head — because it actually HAS a hole in the head, and it needs a medic, and it needs a top-flight surgical team to put it back together. It needs higher walls and more skilled sharpshooters. It needs antidotes to the viruses spread by the enemy, and then it needs viruses that the other side doesn’t have antidotes for yet, and it needs something loud and snarling and foaming at the mouth.
     Because it feels like the only thing the world needs is more wolves.

+ FOUR +

     And then Padre shows up. “Hey,” He says.
     “Oh, hi.”
     “Bad day?”
     “Yeah.”
     “Sorry about that.”
     “Thanks.”
     “Might I suggest something?”
     “Sure.”
     “Read the Psalms.”
     “Excuse me?”
     “Read the Psalms. It’s the one after Job.”
     “Who do I read them to?”
     “Yourself. In time, the Wolves.”
     “Why?”
     “Wolves love Psalms. Didn’t anyone tell you that?”
     “No. Why should I read them to myself?”
     “Because I know.”
     “Know what?”
     “That feeling in the back of your jaw — the feeling like your mouth wants to wire itself shut, lock the door and throw away the key. Because I know every thing you think of saying feels incomplete and off-target and late-to-the-party. Because I know you’re afraid to address the world — your neighbor — your reflection — because you think your words have to be the skeleton key that unlocks all the sorrow and vitriol of this age. All of that’s very admirable.”
     “Thank you." 
     “And it’s also profoundly, utterly foolish.”
     “…Yes.”
     The Almighty crouches low, His eyes meet mine. “Dom. I know it feels like your love is insignificant.”
     “…Yeah.”
     “I know it feels like you need to be a medic, or a sharpshooter, or a wolf.”
    “…Yeah.”
     “But you don’t.” He wipes a fallen tear from my eye. “You’re not a medic, and you’re not a sharpshooter, and you’re not a wolf. You’re Dom. And that’s because I made you like Dom. I made you Dom-shaped, with that Dom-laugh and that Dom-smell. I made you to look like Dominic. To sound like Dominic. To breathe and weep and dance and laugh and love and hope like Dominic.”
     “And,” He adds, “I did it on purpose.”    
     I nod. Another tear. “That’s what scares me the most, Padre — that you knew exactly what you were doing when you made me. I feel it in my chest.”
     “Yeah?”
     “Yeah — that forest fire — that burning bush, that lion’s den — that heart of mine — you put it there. You were sloppy.”
     He smiles. “How so?”
     “If the cops dust my heart they’ll find your fingerprints all over the place.”
     He nods. “Guilty as charged.” 
     “I forgive you.”
     He kisses my forehead. “Ditto.”

+ FIVE +

O Lord, you have searched me
and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you know it completely, O Lord.

infancy

      ”It is cold,” she thinks. “And dark.” 
     Her cloak frays at the edges, the long journey and excessive wearing having taken a toll on the fabric. Her husband cleared several small manure piles in order to provide a clearing, and now she sits, cross-legged, against a beam. Rings of dried blood stain both their fingernails, on account of handling the newborn. Joseph regrets not asking the innkeeper for a wash basin. He glances over at the trough, but hesitates before suggesting they wash their hands in the oxen’s drinking water.      
     Despite the chill, sweat appears on Mary’s forehead. She trembles, and chastises herself for doing so. “Don’t shake,” Mary tells herself. “You’ll wake the baby.”  
     “Don’t shake,” she intones, again and again. “Be still.”
     Bits of hay stick to the cloth. Joseph wrapped it, his hands steadier than hers, but his palms felt coarse on her neck and she brushed him away soon afterward. “Carpenter hands,” thinks Mary. “I don’t need carpenter’s hands. I need soft hands; steady hands prepared for a child.” Mary examines the crimson prints on the cloth, wondering which belong to her, and which belong to her husband.
     Joseph, though young, already bears marks of apprenticeship, having worked under an older carpenter for several years. He stands over Mary, who holds their child close to her breast. His eyes shift from the child’s face, to Mary’s crown, and lastly to the beam supporting both wife and child.
     Joseph notes the knots in the wood and guesses internally at the age of the beam, as well as the stable itself. He steps away, as quiet as he can, and examines the pieces of wood which form the stable wall. “Good choices,” thinks the young carpenter, “though many pieces will need replacing soon, especially if it rains as much as it did last season.” His hand traces the lines in the wood.
     He spies a crack in one of the pieces, just below the ceiling. “Ah,” he thinks, proud of himself for noticing, “there’s a piece that needs fixing right now. Maybe I’ll fix it in return for allowing Mary and the baby to stay the night. It wouldn’t take long at all to repair.” Joseph pauses to take in the night stars, shining through the slits in the stable ceiling.
     He hears the baby coo, and his eyes fall down to wife and child. Joseph remembers the steam rising from his child’s infant skin; a chorus of smoke plumes, as if he was born on fire. “Is everything alright?”
     Mary lifts her head to Joseph and nods. “Fine, Joseph, fine.” Her eyes focus on one rose print in particular; one she knows as hers. “Joseph.”
     “Yes?”
     “Did the…the…” The words lodge in her throat. They feel too sharp, too large to speak. 
     “What is it, Mary?” His hands return to her neck, but this time they feel softer, more tender. Mary inhales, exhales. Her eyes turn from the print and meet his stare. 
     “Did the — angel — when it — when he spoke…did his words make sense to you?”
     Joseph’s eyes don’t break from Mary’s. He smiles, and kisses her forehead. “…No.”
     Mary nods, and smiles. And then her sight returns to the baby, whose palm tumbles down the back of her fingers; tide by tide, learning the hand of his mother. A tear falls, landing square on the baby’s forehead, in the exact location where Joseph kissed her own forehead. She laughs, and the baby stirs.
     Mary, warmed by the child, whispers. “Peace, child. Peace.”

Homeward Sound

For Christmas, all I want are two fixed coordinates; X and Y.  Also known as a point of origin. 

I want to have come from somewhere ancient; to be able to first point to a very old place full of very old buildings, say “There, Then.” And second, point at myself, a heart full of trembling hands, and say, “Here, Now.”

Why do I desire roots, and by extension, Home? “This is where I come from,” I long to say, “This red dirt and these sounds of Blue Herons, these smells of lavender and this amber ray of sunrise — here and here and here.”

More than Los Gatos, California — more than Scotland and Italy — more than dirt and air.

Beneath the desire, a lament — that I wish to possess the virtues of age and place, but without any of the cost or process necessary to acquire them. I want to have roots, but I don’t want to grow them. 

In this way, I’ve forgotten what ‘growth’ even means. Nothing around me grows. Instead, everything around me — from coffee to money transfers to entire seasons of TV to air mattresses to an exact timeline of the French and Indian War to new homes — is Instant, Instantaneous, infinitely swappable for the next model and always — always at my fingertips. 

And not to say that speed is inherently evil — because it isn’t — But it’s not always good. 

Roots require growth. And growth hurts. Roots seep out from within my trunk, and dig deep into the earth. Into a place. Roots demand abiding and endurance, neither an idea with much sway nowadays.

Perhaps I take pride in having left ‘Home’, or having re-arranged the building blocks to the point of not recognizing it as home at all. 

I burn bridges as if it’s a rite of passage. I re-develop mangers into shopping malls. Re-configure cradles into convenience stores into coffee shops into co-working spaces into into into… 

Everything looks familiar, but nothing feels familiar.

Vintage is now virtue. Distressing material is now an assembly line directive. Grain and Dust are incorporated into clean pictures and used to displace, or de-place, ourselves. Wear and tear, brick and wood, Edison bulbs like sand on the seashore. Shiplap and hardwood floors. Rust and frayed edging, amen.

Yes, I am cynical of Time and Age’s mass commodification, but not of the desire. The desires are in me too — the desires to belong to somewhere, to someone — to yearn continually for Home — for a land you know yet cannot describe — a place you’ve never been, but have always known — and that is Good. 

But I cannot build Time, and I cannot manufacture Place. I cannot create Age. Rather, the best humanity can offer is the comfort of dust — from dust drawn out, and to dust destined for. but not of the desire. 

I build my pretty frames and admire the bark on the wood without stopping to acknowledge the deeper truth: I — We — are not made of bark.

We are made of rings. Which are, in turn, made of time. 

+ TWO +

What a beautiful truth — Yes, I come from a very old place.
What a strange truth — Yes, I belong to a current I neither created nor control. 
What a difficult truth — No, it is not a place to be bought, sold, subdivided, redeveloped or repurposed.

What a frightful truth — I am home in the hand of God.
What a loving truth — You are home in the hand of God.
What a painful, graceful, mysterious, burdensome, vibrant, wondrous, transformational-if-we-let-it truth — We are home in the hand and heart of God.

+ THREE +

One of my favorite movies is Hook, for the scene where Peter Banning — now an overweight, overwrought adult — has been rejected and disavowed by the Lost Boys. 

Until the last boy. He approaches, looks Banning up and down, and calls Peter to his level, down near the soil. And the little boy smooshes his hands against his face, pulls back the eyelids, and like magic — “Oh, THERE you are Peter!”

There I will be, in what the world considers my greatest success, me at my best and biggest, and there my beloved will smoosh their fingers against my face, and they will know me as no one else knows me, as only God Himself knows me more — “Oh, THERE you are, Dominic!” 

And there I will be, in what the world considers my greatest failure, me at my worst and weakest, and my beloved will smoosh their fingers against my face, and they will know me as no one else knows me, as only God Himself knows me more — “Oh, THERE you are, Dominic!” 

+ FOUR +

The world, like Saul maladapting David into a soldier, will drape you with ill-fitting armor and demand you fight battles you don’t believe in, for reasons you don’t understand.

"Be a soldier, not a shepherd. Be a warrior, not a lover."

But the Lord, the Shepherd who made me well, sees through all worldly adorning and shaming. It’s Padre, palms open, “There, Then…Here, Now.” 

Here, I’ve always been. Here, I’ll always be. 

Who sings the song I've heard all this time?
What is the still, small voice which has always stirred me -- which has sparked simultaneous dream and terror?


Does Home fill me with dread? With imagination?
Does Home dig deeper and wider than I'll ever know?

What King -- What Shepherd --
Where am I walking? 

What Lion -- What Lamb -- 
Whose steps are these? Whose blood in my veins? 

What Maker -- What Love --
Who are you that calls me Home?

Home might never be a single place, but it is always a Presence; less of an establishing and more of a knowing, where all of you is welcomed, at all times, for all time. 

Home again, home again — in the hand and heart of God — who holds the dust of the earth, who traces canyons in the lines of His palm, and as we bow low, in tenderness, a voice — 

“Son — daughter — child — to the river, to the table. There you are…Home.”

the cowardly lion

"My son, my son," Padre's kiss on my forehead. 
"My love, my love," My body borne up by His. 
"My flame, my flame," His finger held to my sternum.

“Heal, Lion."
 
“Roar, Beast.”
“Love, Beloved.”

The lion; wounded and shivering, cowering in tree-shade at the river’s side.
The lion; half-cleaning its wounds of caked mud, dried blood.
The lion; terrified, filthy, shorn of pride — muscle — indwelling.

Padre kneels and speaks in hymns.
Padre matches breaths with the lion and speaks in dreams.
Padre combs his hand through the lion’s mane and speaks in tears.

He holds the head of the weeping lion in His hands.
He whispers and sparks fire in the lion's heart.
His eyes glow and He claims the lion —

"You — all of you — you are mine."
Now the lion sees its wounds slipping from its flesh as beads of water.
"Your story — your song — is mine all mine —”
Now the lion sees its wounds transferred to the lamb.  
“I make all things new, lion. You are mine all mine.”
Now the lion sees its shadow — held in the shadow the lamb.

The lion feels its frame renewed, and the lamb embraces the healed Lion. 
     "Feel them new bones — oh Lion —”
The lion hears sounds renewed, and the lamb holds fast the healed Beast.
     “Hear that new music — oh Beast —”
The lion sees its wounds closed and cleansed, and the lamb loves the healed Beloved.
     “See that new flesh — oh Beloved —”

And the lamb holds the lion’s gaze. “Watch — watch them wounds vanish as smoke" 
And the Passover Lamb — bleeding sweet, bleeding bright. 
“My lion — my lion — how wonder-full."

"How I love you, my oh my oh — how Deep and how Wide I love you."

alms for a nurse

In the mirror, there i am.

In the dust, there you are.

In the water, there we are..

remember.

In the eyes of the nurse, violet scrubs and ratty-ass Nike’s, cigarette dangling from her cracked lips; salt-n-pepper hair pulled back and coiled tight as a boxer’s fist — squatted on the curb and waiting for her 48 bus, on another hot fucking day where she’s going to have to care for another batch of dumb fucking people who’ve gotten themselves hurt for no good fucking reason.

In the eyes.

In the cracked lips.

In the boxer’s fist.

remember.

In this lonely hour — the beginning of a night shift, the beginning of a day shift, the beginning of twelve hours of prizefighting through red-tape bullshit again and again and again.

In this lonely hour — doubt transformed into helmet, anxiety transformed into breastplate, fear transformed into shield, mourning transformed into sword.

In this lonely hour — heart full of blood, lungs full of smoke, muscles full of wrath. 

In the red-tape bullshit. 

In the sword. 

In the blood..

remember.

 

Do I Still Believe in Magic?

Mozart’s dying, and it’s all his fault. 

Antonio Salieri, a good-but-never-great composer, a figurine thrashing against the Almighty, meets Mozart and views him as a lunatic or divine joke, a brat not worthy of the genius inside him. In response, he hatches a plan to drive Mozart insane and destroy God’s angel.

And now, standing at the foot of Mozart’s bed, looking at the dying cherub, he’s almost succeeded. 

Except now he sees, before him, an unfinished work — a requiem. He examines the sheet music, and he’s overcome by the beauty of the piece. 

Yet Mozart, near-delusional and beyond the point of saving, laments its unfinished nature. Salieri, compelled by a new vision, hatches one more plan:

“…Let me help. Let me help you finish it.”

Mozart’s spirit awakens. Salieri pulls a desk over and stacks up blank sheet music. Then, armed with ink and quill, he prepares to transcribe Mozart’s dictation.

He begins with the tenors, and in isolation, their voices float over both Mozart and Salieri. The bass voices follow, linked now with the tenors. Bassoon and trumpet and timpani and strings cascade behind them, instrument building upon instrument. Salieri struggles to keep up — 

“You’re going too fast!” 

“Do you have me?” Screams Mozart. Have you translated it right? Is it written?

Salieri finishes the last notation and flips the pages to Mozart, who lunges for them. His eyes scan the pages, his right arm raises as if he’s conducting the orchestra, and — 

— with Bombast and Goth and Power and Fury, the requiem rises to life, all parts in unison, more beautiful and terrifying than Salieri or Mozart could have imagined. God’s glory on full display.

+    +    +

This isn’t a story from the history books. This is a scene from a movie, Amadeus, which itself was an adaptation of a play. 

Regardless of whether or not one calls the veracity of the scene into the question, the scene still hits like a wrecking ball every time I watch it. 

Each time I watch Mozart conduct an invisible symphony, I feel the hair stand up on my arms. 

Every time Salieri sees God on the page, I believe in magic. 

Every time two men engage the divine and experience grace, healing, awe — it makes me want to be a storyteller all over again.   

+    +    +

Here now, the question I pose to myself: Do I still believe in magic? 

Do I still believe in the power of storytelling? 

Because this year I’ve felt, more than ever, like quitting. The spec projects I’ve worked on go out into the world, and return void. I feel like I’m throwing all heart and soul into the ether, and it makes me want to cage up all the wild animals in my ribcage, and snuff out all the flames in my lungs.  

Because the world doesn't need cute stories. The world doesn't need ugly stories, either. The world doesn't need fairy tales. The world needs shields and bricks and cash and gas and pills. The world needs justice and revenge and more bullets and higher walls and faster download speeds and more renewable resources. 

Because the world will not, cannot, listen to 'once upon a time.' Unless you're building an empire along with it, the world will not stand for 'in the beginning.' 

That’s something they don’t teach you in undergrad — not how to knock on the next door when the previous one shuts in your face, but how to keep knocking on the fucking door, period. 

Even when no one answers. Because Christ brought you to the door. Because He put a bird in your heart, full of song and radiant light, and He promised you He would teach you how to sing, and you said — 

“Father, I’m s-s-scared.” Like Moses at the Burning Bush, yeah? ‘Not a good a speaker,’ said Moses, ‘better off with someone else.’ But Padre, He smiles, and laughs deep, and he says — 

“I will teach you to sing. Because you are mine.”

And then He walks you to the door. 

“Now, knock.”

+    +    +

This is my story, this is my song. 

knock, knock. knock, knock. 

Praising my Savior, all the day long. 

knock, knock. knock, knock.

This is my story, this is my song.

knock, knock. knock, knock.

Praising my Savior, all the day long. 

knock, knock. knock, knock.

FICTION: STATION MANAGER

Esmerelda leaned against the inside of the doors; she felt her shoulders flush against the wood. Her eyes looked right down the center aisle, trained on Christ at the far end of the room. Another sweltering day. Another fan-less, breeze-less day. 

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, the maker of Heaven and Earth.”

The sun began to scale the stained-glass on Ezzie's left. Stations One through Six. Stations like the radio. The radio, like music. Music, like Jazz.

Christ, Jazz.

"I believe in God the Father Almighty, the maker of Heaven and Earth and Jazz.”

A figure interrupted the light, near station three. She saw his shadow, and she heard his voice. “Hello? Is anyone in there? Hello? Hello?”

Station Three. Jesus falls for the first time.

"Jesus, the cross you have been carrying is very heavy. You are becoming weak and almost ready to faint, and you fall down.”

"Hello? Please! Anyone at all!”

Station Three, thought Ezzie. Oldies. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. “Tracks of my Tears.” “Second That Emotion. “Tears of a Clown.”

Now if there's a smile upon my face
it's only there trying to fool the public
but when it comes down to fooling you
now honey that's quite a diff'rent subject

That could’ve been Christ in the garden, thought Ezzie. Christ might’ve been all smiles and ‘love thy neighbor’, but he knew he’d have to die. He could feel the sin and the shit of the world, and He knew there’d need to be an accounting. 

He knew his time was coming.

The shadow knocked on the glass of the third station. Ezzie hushed him.

“Quiet! They’ll hear.”
“I wasn’t followed. I swear. I swear. Please let me in.”

It’d been forty-eight days since the dead broke the soil at St. Timothy’s on Third Street. Ezzie had been holed up in the church for the past eleven.  

When the stone rolled away, it was a miracle. This time, however, it meant no more jazz or Smokey Robinson. The thought of her past life filled Ezzie with grief, and she wanted so dearly to cry. But If Jesus could sweat blood at Gethsemane and still not escape his punishment, thought Ezzie, then what good would crying about the lack of Motown do her?

Nothing. No amount of Gethsemane Sweat would bring back Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, The Four Tops, the Supremes, or The Temptations. 

The shadow knocked once more. And once more, Ezzie hushed him.

“Asshole! Quiet.”
“Like I said, no one followed me. And watch your language.”

Ezzie stopped. Her eyes went back to Christ for a moment.

“Just between you and me,” she thought, “I hope this guy goes next.”