Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reading Poetry

The mystery is alien to you, you
dislike the veils and fog
that conceal what would
in sun or firelight
blaze like trumpets
and like tears.

Cold in the mist, you turn away
bewildered, you call
for a storm to sweep the world
clean and clear. Breath
comes easier to you
when the air is alive. I

rest in this understanding--
that silence speaks
not of stillborn meaning
but of stories so laden
with feeling
words cannot carry them.


I can't get over the thunderstorms here. Just past noon, and suddenly the light has been swallowed up. A roaring tears through the clouds and bursts through the open windows. The wind whirls inside, swinging the venetian blinds inward, knocking over bottles, snatching up scraps of paper. The serene sky has stretched itself into a lion, roaring as it stalks the city. Rain runs through the streets like many small feet.

Now the drops sprinkle the window panes. Now they batter against the glass and they burst through the screens. The rain is trying to get in. I close two windows, and return.

Listen, the water is drumming on the tin window sill, drumming on the AC unit. Listen, a lion is roaring in the clouds. The streets turn silver, and the people hide in their boxes and holes.

Thursday, September 22, 2011


"What's your name?" asked the lady on the phone.

I paused. When did this become a difficult question? My name is now J------- B-----, but not all of my identification documents say so. I'm going to have a bank card with the new name in a few days, but three weeks ago when I made the online order being discussed, the debit card I was using had my old name on it, which in turn is not the name that I ever introduced myself by, since I have always called myself by a shortened form of my first name.

In reality, only a fraction of a second passed by while I hesitated over how to name myself. (In retrospect, it was a bit of a White Knight* moment.) But it was another reminder of the confusions of being a new wife.

*From Ch. 8 of Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass:
`Oh, that's the name of the song, is it?' Alice said, trying to feel interested.
`No, you don't understand,' the Knight said, looking a little vexed. `That's what the name is called. The name really is "The Aged Aged Man."'
`Then I ought to have said "That's what the song is called"?' Alice corrected herself.
`No, you oughtn't: that's quite another thing! The song is called "Ways and Means": but that's only what it's called, you know!'
`Well, what is the song, then?' said Alice, who was by this time completely bewildered.
`I was coming to that,' the Knight said. `The song really is "A-sitting On A Gate": and the tune's my own invention.'

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


I always make granola by hand, but this time I stuck my hands in the oats and mixed them with my fingers. Cinnamon breathed out of the mixing bowl. I smashed the walnuts in my fists and let them infuse my skin with their oil and grit. Scooping raisins into the bowl, and then coconut, and mixing it with my hands, I felt like I was experiencing the granola in a deeper way... Despite having made it so many times, there is always something new to be learned!

Thinking lately about how humans are defined by relationships--with other people, with God, and also with creation, a.k.a. the physical environment: from the mouse in the kitchen, to the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, to a painting on the wall, to the raisins in the granola that swell up so surprisingly in the oven. Even this granola is part of who I am.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Social Life

From David Dobb's feature story in the Oct. 2011 National Geographic, "Beautiful Brains":
"This supremely human characteristic makes peer relations not a sideshow but the main show. Some brain-scan studies, in fact, suggest that our brains react to peer exclusion much as they respond to threats to physical health or food supply. At a neural level, in other words, we perceive social rejection as a threat to existence. Knowing this might make it easier to abide the hysteria of a 13-year-old deceived by a friend or the gloom of a 15-year-old not invited to a party. These people! we lament. They react to social ups and downs as if their fates depended upon them! They're right. They do."
(David Dobbs, National Geographic, Oct. 2011 issue. )
--But do they?

On the one hand, the statement that "we perceive social rejection as a threat to existence" resonates deep inside me. I didn't experience that level of wild oscillation as a teenager, but now that I am in the most vital human relationship of my life (this thing called "romance," which has become "marriage"), I know in a new way the feeling that something in me will die, is dying, when the relationship is damaged. I never depended like this before, I never hurt like this before (& I never rejoiced like this before).

Which brings me to the other hand: though humans are meant to live in society/community, and to be defined by relationship, I don't believe our existence (as the essence of ourselves) is meant to be threatened by social rejection, no matter how severe. I think we're meant to feel threatened by it, and that that sense of threat should shake us into realizing: this isn't my life. Or rather, it's my life, but it's not my Life.

--if that makes any sense. Let me be more explicit.

As a Christian, I am at the same time profoundly dependent and connected to the people around me ("one flesh" with my husband, "one body" with the rest of the Church), and radically independent from them because who I am is who Christ says I am, and Christ is life, light, truth, salvation, and hope for me. He is the Bread of Life. He is my Refuge. No one can snatch me out of his hand.


I started cooking when I was small enough to need a stool to reach the counter, but only for the past two years have I been cooking my own meals. Going across the country for college was a major step away from childhood and my parents' house, but it didn't particularly feel like a move toward adulthood and maturity until I moved into an apartment and, for the first time in my life, had my own kitchen. It was still school housing, and there was still a cleaning service, but suddenly I was cooking my own meals. Grocery-shopping, cooking, keeping track of left-overs: it required so much more forethought than deciding which cafeteria to go to.

This made me feel like an adult in a way that no number of good grades or 15-page papers could. Hadn't I been doing homework and projects for school since I was six years old? If anything, I was less responsible about my schoolwork in college than in high school, because I had finally figured out that success isn't predicated on perfection. In contrast, hadn't my mother (or father) always served a good dinner at the proper time?

Feeding myself three times a day was totally new. No one was going to provide dinner for me if my program was full of bugs and I lost track of time trying to hunt them down. Also, if I wanted to eat something other than grilled cheese sandwiches, lentil soup, or stirfry, it was up to me to find a new recipe. Feeding myself required initiative and creative thinking, above and beyond the organization and time management skills that school requires.

So in a way, I grew up in the kitchen.

I came to recognize and understand the spices whose names I had heard all my life, but who had always been strangers, the friends of my parents. Yesterday, I truly made the acquaintance of the noble bay leaf for the first time, when I made my second batch of split pea soup ever and found it radically better with the contribution of the bay leaves.

I began to understand my mother's enchantment with unfamiliar ingredients. Today I wandered the aisles of the organic grocery store with an attitude of meditation more commonly found in book stores than grocery stores. Celtic Sea Salt, Thai Wok Oil, Sucanat: so many mysteries waiting to be experienced.

And I recognized anew my weakness. When my mother was feeding me, when the school was feeding me, hunger was an experience I consciously chose at times, always accompanied by a promise of good food to come. Now that I cook for myself, I stumble into hunger at unexpected moments, and I find myself grumpy, despairing, insecure. It feels like the world is ending when I expect food and I don't get it. Perhaps I am still a child after all, crying when the milk doesn't flow or when my candy falls on the floor.

I am more than what I eat, but I am what I eat. In my own kitchen, it's a self that I am cooking.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I don't know where it comes from. The windows opened to the dirty street? The walls and ceiling, slowly disintegrating? Our own skin? Wherever it comes from, it goes everywhere. The white sink basin in the bathroom wilts to grey. The floor grits under our bare feet. In the tassels of the rug, my long hairs are tangled like kelp washed up on the sand. A colony of dust bunnies grows up in the shelter of the shed hair. I wonder if by sweeping, sweeping, sweeping, I am thwarting the emergence of a new and microscopic civilization that lives off of dirt and discarded skin.

When the broom goes back in the corner and the rag goes into the bucket, the floor reflects the afternoon light, unclouded. I close the windows and study the walls, wondering when the next dust-storm will come. I think I can smell it in the air, on my fingertips.

Thursday, September 1, 2011


I want so badly to run away from this conversation, situation, hesitation, devastation. Email leaves such a distance between our spinning minds, a space measured in light years. It will be years before your mind seems a source of light to me, before mine seems a star to you. Right now, you look like a black hole, endlessly devouring. At the bottom, do you twist into an alternate universe, full of unexpected life? or are you what you appear to be: a gravity that compresses even souls into a point of zero dimensions?

Who are you that I should fear you so? I should not, should not fear. "I will not fear the day, I will not run from night. I will hold onto You for life."

Black holes cannot tear me out of His arms. You are no threat to me, while He stands between us.