11 Writers’ Paradises

I use “I’m a writer!” to justify haunting many eclectic and sometimes downright strange locations. I visited four of the below Eleven Writers’ Paradises today, so I guess you could say it was a successful Sunday! (And yes, I know 11 is a weird number for a list, but it is my favorite number so sorry not sorry.)

  1. Cemeteries: The older, the better. Read the tombstones, guess at the stories behind them, find an otherworldly peace in the quiet stillness, maybe- just maybe- have a competition with a friend to see who can find the oldest grave. And no, it isn’t creepy.
  2. Libraries: Follow the advice of countless authors greater than I (probably because they’ve actually been published…someday, Ryanne, someday…) and spend tons of time exploring labyrinths of shelves.
  3. Antique Malls: I visited one today that was absolutely delightful; there was eerie music box music playing, old clothes on busts that could easily be mistaken for ghosts from the past, cases of heirlooms, yellow-paged books, mismatched teacups to delight the Mad Hatter’s heart….I could easily have stayed forever and quite possibly turned into an antique there myself.
  4. Hipster Coffee Shops: Love them. If you have the choice between Starbucks and some quirky shop you’ve never been, go with the latter and NEVER order the same thing twice. This is coming from a girl with a Gold Card, so you know I am serious.
  5. Used Bookstores: These are the wonderful child of antique malls and libraries. Just a warning; if you stay too long, you might grow lightheaded from the delightful but powerful aroma of old paper and ink mingled with the dust of the ages.
  6. The Woods: There is a reason the author of Walden decided to Thoreau away his life and live in the wild. (PUN PUN PUN!) If you can’t get to the woods, find a place similar. Trees alone are often enough to attract the Muses.
  7. Churches: I don’t mean the modern, movie-seated auditoriums of today’s generation. I mean churches with stained glass, pipe organs, rows of pews, probably a candle burning somewhere beside a large gold-trimmed Bible.
  8. Markets: Any sort of flea market, farmers’ market, craft fair, etc. These are all good because they bring together people and products of all sorts. Always buy something too, be it a bag of fresh cherries or a funky new scarf.
  9. Self-made Forts: Be it made from cardboard boxes, blankets, or you just hiding under a piano where nobody can see you (I speak from experience…I hide under my piano when the doorbell rings sometimes), forts are fun and spark imagination.
  10. Train Stations or Airports: Admittedly when I am in these places, I am often stressed trying to make a flight or figure out how to ask where my platform is in French. But if you stop and look around, there are so many people and packages and destinations to wonder about! And, as we all know, wonder creates stories.
  11. Anywhere so long as you have a notebook and imagination: Yes, this is mostly because I could not think of a tenth place. However, I have found inspiration in really unexpected places and honestly a good writer (I do not claim to be one yet) can make a story or poem from anything, be it a cracked sidewalk, pencil box, auction ticket, you name it!
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Immediately: Eight Poems Based on the Gospel of Mark

In reading through Mark, I was struck by the recurring use of the word “immediately.” It is used to characterize many aspects of Christ’s ministry on Earth, but I was especially drawn to its use in relation to instances of healing. As I pondered this motif and these stories, I found myself understanding them with new clarity. In order to delve deeper into this idea of immediacy in Jesus’ miracles, I wrote a set of eight free verse poems exploring what the experiences of the individuals affected may have been like based on the details gleaned from the Gospel According to Mark.

Jesus Healing the Bleeding Woman, Roman Catacombs 300-350

Immediately

I. The Woman (Mark 5:21-34)

The crowd is throbbing

As my pain is

throbbing.

I have not come this far in years.

Twelve years.

Tears-

I cannot help them-

Begin to flow…

Flow as blood has

For twelve years.

I am so close.

But still feel so far and fears

Overcome me

As the people surround me.

They know.

They all know.

I see their glances:

Quick, horrified, averted.

I want to scream:

“Yes! See! See my shame!

Tell me, you proud, healthy,

Is it my fault?”

But instead I fall.

To my knees I am bent.

Beneath the weight of despair

I am kept.

But my eyes remain fixed

Before me, ahead.

I am fallen

And aching

But I am not yet dead.

My eyes catch

On a figure weaving

Through this throbbing, living sea.

As I rise to walk,

My vision fades.

I stretch my hand and fumble feebly forward…

A hem.

All I seek.

A hem to hem me behind and before

In healing safety.

My finger brushes

The rough cloth,

Not even for a breath,

But mine returns.

Immediately,

Blood dries and sight clears.

Love and hope and peace

Are all that flow

Not from, but over me.

Immediately,

I am again on my knees,

Not for lack of strength

But faith.

I tremble.

Yet this fear is new,

As I am made new

Immediately.

I cannot help

But want to sing,

“Oh, see! See! My shame undone!

See and know!

The saving One!”

Immediately.

.

II. The Man with the Withered Hand(3:1-6)

My bones lament

With hunger.

My eyes grow dim

From waiting.

Waiting for nothing,

Since who would help me today?

The sad irony of the Lord’s Day.

Synagogues and pockets full,

But hearts empty.

Even more empty than my hand.

At least I would to fill mine.

Another sad irony.

For I cannot.

I cannot even reach out

To work or to beg.

Why bother anyway?

You cannot pour from empty jars

And a broken pot like me-

A withered hand like mine-

Holds nothing.

Yet here I am,

Still waiting.

Waiting for someone

To heal and fill

And then,

“Come here.”

I lift my head.

A hand, not mine, reaches

As I cannot.

An order next:

“Stretch out your hand.”

Will the cruelty ever end?

Why does he mock me?

But then,

Immediately.

I watch fingers uncurl, lengthen.

Nails harden.

Palm fattens.

Muscles strengthen.

And it is my hand,

Yet not my hand

That is,

Immediately,

Opened and held out

For me.

The skin is softened,

Like my heart.

Immediately,

As limb is healed,

I am no longer empty.

Hardened hearts are whole jars,

Yet easily shattered.

Mine bends as my knuckles,

To take in life.

Immediately,

Hand restored, hope fulfilled.

I am sustained

And can sustain.

Oh, happy day!

Oh, sad irony cured

Immediately.

.

III. Jairus’s Daughter (5:35-43)

“Daughter, your faith has made you well,”

I hear the man say

To a woman kneeling.

Dealing with these commoners

Must be tiresome.

Some are calling him Teacher, after all.

He could be as me,

Lofty, a ruler.

I turn away,

But hear it again,

The word I hold dear.

“Daughter.”

Someone clutches my arm;

I am clutched by fear.

Dead.

In her bed.

Not sleeping?

No, nor breathing.

I stagger.

A gasp as one struck

Escapes my throat.

A wordless cry,

Yet I know he will hear.

Common or not,

I have to try.

My girl cannot just…die.

A man holds me back.

“Why trouble the Teacher?”

But I cannot just leave her.

And He heard,

And He knew

What had happened

And what I felt.

And He came.

“Do not fear.

Only believe.”

But can words alone dry

A father’s tears?

I know it is not sleep.

But then,

He spoke again.

His voice a lullaby.

“Talitha cumi,”

Commanding gently to rise.

Immediately,

Quicker even than on holiday mornings,

She did.

Eyes bright, arms outstretched

To wrap in embrace around

My once-stiff neck.

Immediately,

My daughter

Is born to me a second time

Of the water I wept.

Immediately,

She stands and,

Laughing and crying of joy,

We dance.

Immediately,

The Teacher, True Ruler,

Awakes daughter and father both

from death

And mourning dawns as morning

Immediately.

.

IV. The Leper (1:40-45)

Unclean,

I hide myself.

Lest I am seen

And sent away,

Purged from the city

While dogs and rats are allowed

To stay.

But they say

I am unclean.

I do not argue;

I am one of the unlucky ones

Who cannot hide his sins

Beneath a cloak of

Smooth, clear skin.

I am as unclean

Outside as others are within.

So I conceal my body,

But my spirit I’ll bear

An offering.

The sacrifice of Psalmist’s praise

Is not made up of lovely face

But a contrite heart,

Such a heart as mine.

Perhaps the only organ spared

But even it is broken.

Its pieces cry out

With my failing limbs.

Unclean,

But yearning.

I step out-

Painfully, timidly,

From where I’ve been

Hiding, waiting, dying…

Decaying though still living.

To my knees

I sink before You

To present my pitiful lot

Before You.

Its package fails, unclean.

But if you will…

You will?

Can it be?

At your word,

At your touch-

Ah, how long since I’ve been touched!

Oh fearful joy!

Immediately,

I am clean.

From that gentle press of the fingertips,

Life springs.

Immediately,

I feel it.

I feel it in nerves revived.

Shivering, pulsing,

Skin reforms before my eyes.

But even more,

Immediately,

My mangled heart

Laid at Your feet

Is touched too,

Molded and cradled

By hands invisible.

Immediately,

I stand humbled without shame,

Purified shell, Sanctified soul.

I am wonderfully remade

And run to present my whole self

Immediately.

.

V. The Paralytic (2:1-12)

People just keep going

Around, across, any way they can.

Stepping over me even.

But what can I do?

Nothing but what I am doing.

Lying here.

Still, in one piece

Yet shattered,

Feeling the full weight of despair

And at the same time

Feeling nothing.

Lying here, I can recall
When lying was pleasant

If it was with words to fool

Or women to love

In secrecy.

I fight the urge to laugh,

Bitterly.

Is it not funny how desires

So frequently

Turn to damnation

In a single, fateful

Instant?

The crowd is thick.
I watch as someone trips

Over the legs I no longer

Think of as my own.

As I am carried to the roof,

Still in my bed,

The thought crosses my mind

That maybe falling would not be so bad.

Yet even that end

Is not in my power.

They lower

Me down.

A face comes into view

Looking down but not in pride.

His eyes are sad

As if he sees

The past I wish to hide.

“Son,” he says,

Claiming me.

“Your sins are forgiven.”

Immediately,

Though my body remains still,

My heart leaps

And my soul is moved.

Immediately,

Outrage erupts around,

But I hear only one voice:

The Authority

Who speaks again.

Immediately,

I obey.

Could I ignore

The One who says,

“Rise and walk”?

Immediately,

I stand and take my bed.

No more lying for me.

Walking even

Is not enough

If it is not with Thee.

In your movements

I will follow

Immediately.

.

VI. The Deaf Man (7:31-37)

I cannot tell

What these gestures mean.

Why do you all wave

Your hands at me?

I can only guess at

The words on your lips.

And can only make

Vain attempts

To do as you do,

To speak as you speak.

By your wrinkled brows

And worried looks,

I know I am failing.

Where are you taking me?

Who is this man?

Oh, do not leave me!

I cannot understand

Your mute tongues,

But do not forsake me!

Where is he taking me?

I try to shout

But fall into silence,

Not that I am ever not

In that painful, ringing

Silence.

We stop.

The crowd is out of sight.

The man reaches out.

I flinch,

Expecting a blow

As from the cruel youths

Who saw me as a game,

An object of fun for them,

Confused torment for me.

But no blow comes,

Just a soft warmth

As He covers the sides of my head

And the tip of my tongue

With His hands.

Eyes wide, bewildered,

I watch.

He sighs.

I feel His breath on my face

And see Him mouth a word.

No- more!

More than see!

Immediately,

before the word

Has flown from His lips,

I hear.

I heart it!

Immediately,

As He speaks,

“Ephphatha”

“Be opened,”

I hear!

And realize the crowd

Is out of earshot

As well as sight.

Immediately,

My newborn ears

Are tuned to one voice,

The voice of my Healer

And Master.

Immediately,

I do what is now natural,

Though moments ago,

Impossible.

I shout and proclaim

Of hearing and healing

Immediately.

.

VII. The Blind Man (8:22-26)

“Touch me, someone!

So I might know you are there!”

Greet me, anyone!

So I am not alone,

Isolated in my own darkness.

I’m begging,

Begging for more than food

Or loose coins you can spare.

It is light that I am starving for-

A light to show me out,

Out of this eternal, internal,

Personal night.

My heart yearns

Morning and evening,

Though both are to me

The same.

Oh, I shudder.

The chill of winter

And aches of hunger

Are nothing

To this ceaseless imprisonment

Within myself.

I cry out again…

Perhaps someone will reply.

“Oh, stranger friend,

Whoever among you, passersby,

Has any pity,

I entreat you

To touch me,

Hear me,

See me.

But what’s this?

I start suddenly

As a hand descends

And makes to guide me.

My pleading fades.

I follow in silence,

Trusting,

Though I know not

Who leads me.

Then a pressure

Against my eyes,

Those shutter windows

To my lonely soul.

Next a voice asks,

“Do you see?”

Immediately,

I am blinded

No longer by darkness,

But by light,

Dazzling and radiant.

Immediately,

I answer,

“I see, people?

Or are those trees?”

I blink and try again.

Immediately,

The man’s hands

Descend once more,

Unflagging the glass,

This time completely.

Immediately,

I see and am seen.

I am freed,

Released from my prison

Where I grieved

In midnight black.

The Son is shining and I see,

Immediately.

.

VIII. The Demon-Possessed Boy (9:14-29)

Horrors.

There is no other name

For the things I have seen,

And sat helplessly by…

Useless.

My son, ripped from my arms

By a force I could not fight.

I am his father!
Guilt stabs like a knife.
But how can I defend when

The enemy, invader

Makes war from within?
My own flesh and blood,

My beloved,

My son,

Cast into the flames

I was too slow to quench,

Then plunged into the water

Kept for the fire.

I am but man

And as such but dust.

How could I conquer a spirit

When my own is worn and weary

And losing hope?

Alas! Why do you come,
you crowd seeking spectacle?
You do not want to see

What daily seeks-

Through my son-

To destroy me:

Demon Doubt

Grapples for my soul

As the other strangles my son’s life

With his own fingers.

His demon casts him down,

Frothing, convulsing.

Mine pulls on me too,

But before it succeeds,

I cast myself down

In desperation

At Your feet.

Before the growing crowd,

Before You, my Lord.

“I believe, but oh!
Help my unbelief!”

Immediately,

Stillness falls.

Has death come?
Merciful relief?
Dare I hope for better?
It seems beyond belief and yet…

Immediately,

Quiet reigns

Where screams once were

And peace floods my soul,

Burning away fear

As two evils are expelled,

Far, far from here.

Immediately,

Your hand raises him.

The Son returns my son

Back to the arms

From which he was torn.

And in that moment,

Two faiths are born

Immediately.

 

“Good Boy”

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Sandy Paws just a month ago 🙂

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Sandy was the Toto to my Dorothy 

When I was in second grade, a dream came true: we got a dog. It was rather unexpected, but it was probably one of the happiest days of my life, never mind the fact that our new puppy was sent to live at Grandma and Grandpa’s house a month later (on my birthday no less…worst birthday ever…). I remember taking home the tiny ball of brown fur and showing “Sandy Paws” off proudly to our neighbors. When, a few years later, Sandy Paws returned to live with us, I was excited all over again. Home just was never the same without a little creature begging for food while I tried to eat, running to meet me after school, or napping at my feet as I practiced piano.

.

That said, it broke my heart to hear that Sandy was suddenly

IMG_9549

Baby Seth and Puppy Sandy 

very sick and, being away at college, to suffer the loss of this beloved dog without my family or even getting to pet him one last time. Honestly, I am dreading returning home for summer vacation a little bit because I know no joyous canine will come running to meet me with doggy kisses and a toy for me to throw. But, as usual, it was easier to express all of these emotions in poetry than unfeeling prose. I’ll miss you Sandy Paws and love you still. Theology may or may not support me on this, but I hope to see you again someday. Until then, this one’s for you:

 

“Good Boy”

.

Human, what’s the matter?

Why is your face so sad?

Can I make it better?

Have I done something bad?

.

Master, are you alright?

Will you be okay?

I’m trying with all my might,

But just cannot obey.

.

Friend, will you be secure?

When I can’t be your guard?

Without this watch of fur,

Who’ll scare cats from the yard?

.

Pal, who will come to greet

You when you’re home from school?

Who will happily eat

The crumbs beneath your stool?

.

Buddy, who will be there

Beside you when you’re sick?

Who will act like he cares

As you teach silly tricks?

.

Chum, who’ll fetch what you throw?

Or bark at the front door?

Or be companion as you grow

When I am here no more?

.

Owner, who will lick your tears,

And offer a chew toy?

I know you’ll miss me, dears.

For I was your “good boy.”