Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Poetic Voices: Megan Fernandes and Sandra Marchetti

I read some poetry collections that are enjoyable and well crafted but soon disappear in the far reaches of memory. I suppose that’s a nice way of saying they are enjoyable in the moment but not terribly memorable. And then there are other collections, by poets who use words that are almost jagged, sharp points that tear and shred preconceived notions and force you to consider something in an entirely different way. The result can be unsettling.

Meet Megan Fernandes and Sandra Marchetti.

To continue reading, please see my post today at Tweetspeak Poetry.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Ed Cyzewski’s “First Draft Father”

Our firstborn was a few weeks old. I came home from work for lunch, so my wife could do a regular postpartum doctor’s visit. She left, and I sat there in my suit, feeding our son a bottle in the place of his regular breastfeeding.

Suddenly I heard the noise, the sound of a rather large if muffled explosion. I looked down to see that my son had somehow figured out how to get a bowel movement through his Pampers, through his plastic pants, and through the lap pad to splatter me and my suit with a yellowish-brownish substance.

My first thought: being single again. My second thought: how do I move and not see the stuff slide down my suit to the shag carpet on the floor? The volume was large. And liquid. On the plus side, the baby seemed quite content and resumed inhaling his bottle.

None of the Lamaze classes prepare you for these kind of moments, or the more general fears of every first-time father. Will I drop the baby? Do I know how to change the diaper? How do I know if the baby’s sick? Can I make it to the kitchen floor before the poop hits the carpet?

Writer and author Ed Cyzewski had an additional fear – he would be the stay-at-home dad while his wife attended graduate school.

As it turned out, Cyzewski did just fine. What likely helped was that he blogged the experience of being a first-time father, which meant he could articulate his fears and worries and get ideas and encouragement from both dads and moms.

In First Draft Father: A Write-from-Home Dad Finds the Joy/Anxiety/Exhaustion/Wonder of Parenting, Cyzewski has assembled and edited his blog posts and added a few articles published in other publications. The result is an honest, and real, account of fatherhood – and trying to juggle baby duties with being a freelance writer and author.

As I said, Cyzewski did just fine – but there were many times when he felt the outcome was in doubt. Whether we’re stay-at-home dads or working dads, we all experience the feelings of doubt, frustration, fear, anxiety, frustration, anger – and love.

He deals with “the real” of babies – the exhaustion, the trade-offs, the best-laid-plans that blow up when the baby decides not to nap, doing whatever it takes to get the baby to sleep (if that means walking him in the stroller during a thunderstorm, so be it); dealing with all the great and not-so-great advice; and the times when you break.

Ed Cyzewski
It’s been 27 years since our second son was a newborn – and reading First Draft Father was walking back through those times when I did things I never dreamed of doing B.C. – before children. And learned things I never dreamed of learning.

What Ed Cyzewski has served up is a big helping of encouragement, understanding, and experience. Read First Draft Father if you getting ready to become one, if you are one, ir if you were one.

And did I make it to the kitchen without a downpour on the carpet?

Yes, hunched over at a 90-degree angle with the baby held tightly to my chest. I laid him on floor, messy pad and all, and removed all of my clothes – nothing had been spared, including my socks. Then I removed all of his clothes, none of which had been spared, either, and the two of us streaked to the shower.

Photograph by George Hodan via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

I keep the laws

After Acts 6:8 – 7:60

I keep the laws
I wash, when I should,
I fast, when I should,
read and listen when I should

he serves the widows at table

I live near, the sacredness
of this place spills over my home
I tithe what I should

He serves the people with love

And you, Stephen, hand me
Scripture and history and
innocence and spirit and
wisdom and the face
of an angel

he serves his Lord in what
he says

I give you stones, cast
I give you stones, thrown
I give you stones, hurled

he serves his Lord in what
he does

stones, Stephen,

he is served stones

Painting of the stoning of St. Stephen by Rembrandt van Rijn, oil on canvas, 1625; Musee des Beaux-Arts de Lyon.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Good Reads

It was a bad week and a good week online.

It’s one of those controversies that can only get going when someone misses the context of a comment or article or statement, or ignores what someone has said in general on the subject, or just doesn’t check their facts. Yes, it was Christians doing it to Christians, and this time author Karen Swallow Prior was the target. Blogger Mark Chanson comprehensively set the record straight, and the offending party eventually backed off. And they’ll know we are Christians by how venomous we can be?

The controversy is indicative of several things: how the internet and social media can exacerbate rumors and misinformation; the heightened sensitivity among Christians over where the culture is headed; and the general tendency of having to be right, about everything and all the time, without exception, starting with our political leaders.

Christians should know better.

But it was a good week for poetry (well, perhaps every week is a good week for poetry). And photographs. And ponderings on faith.

And something else good happened, too: someone saw the link to my blog post this week on The Hiding Place, saw the photograph I used with it, and recognized it had been taken in Holland. The photograph showed German troops marching a group of Jews to deportation from a Dutch town. The photo brought back some of this person’s earliest memories – she had been a toddler during the Nazi occupation and remembered the “black boots” marching people to the concentration camp outside her town. She was not familiar with Corrie ten Boom or The Hiding Place, but decided to read the book.


The earth is stained with an unyielding wildness – John Blase at The Beautiful Due. 

Not pretty – Lise at All the Words. 
Remembering Sunrise - Seth Haines. 
Burden – Maureen Doallas at Writing Without Paper. 
On our island and Awakening – Troy Cady at T(r)oy Marbles. 


Happy Halloween and Four Studies of Lilies – Tim Good at Photography by Tiwago. 

Slow Process – Cait Kovac at Oxford American.


Listening for the Symphony - Jason Stasyszen at Connecting to Impact. 
Recovering Your Joy – Lise at Words and Wonder. 
Pulpit and Pen's Accusations Against Karen Prior – Mark Chanson.   
July 4th Blues & Building a Foundation for a Story that Matters – Chris Peek at Trail Reflections. 
A Foreigner Sees the World – Ann Kroeker.

Photograph of Greek Orthodox Church on Crete by Petr Kratochvil via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Did it save you, Stephen

After Acts 6:8-7:60

Did the face of the angel
save you, Stephen, did
the five words save you,
did the grace and spirit
save you, Stephen

did the logic save you,
did the recitation of history,
accurate, save you, did
any of this save you, Stephen

the charges flew around our heads
the sentence flew around our heads
the stones flew around your head

none of it save you, Stephen,
or did it

Photograph by Maliz Ong via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

“Stone’s Fall” by Iain Pears

My first encounter with the novels of Iain Pears was An Instance of the Fingerpost, published in 1999. I was enthralled by a story that was almost hypnotic, not to mention almost impossible to put down (and it was a long story). I was just as taken by a second novel, The Dream of Scipio (2003), and how Pears used the idea of time as the framework for his story.

Between those two novels, Pears drew upon his background as an art historian to begin what became a series of seven “art history mysteries:” The Raphael Affair, The Last Judgment, The Titian Committee, Death and Restoration, The Bernini Bust, Giotto’s Hand and The Immaculate Deception. The books are wonderful mysteries, and you learn about the art and the art world at the same time you’re enjoying a good story.

In 2010, Pears published Stone’s Fall, which I have finally gotten around to reading. Here, rather than drawing upon his knowledge of and experience with art, he utilizes his experience as a journalist (BBC, Reuter’s and others) and creates a story about the world a few years before World War I. Almost like an investigative journalist, Pears leads the reader down a path of armaments manufacturing, the Industrial Revolution, international finance and diplomatic intrigue.

But even more than that, he takes us back in time, from London in 1909 to Paris in 1890 and Venice in 1867, telling his story in almost reverse chronological order.

In 1909, in his London home on St. James Square, 68-year-old businessman John Stone falls out of a window to his death. The police conclude it was an accident, that Stone tripped on a carpet in front of the window and fell. No one wants to consider suicide, because Stone is the center of an industrial armaments empire that stretches globally, and his shareowners include people at the highest levels of the British government.

Stone’s considerably younger wife Elizabeth hires a something journalist, Matthew Braddock, to ostensibly write a biography of her late husband but actually to discover the identity of the child mentioned in Stone’s will. The will doesn’t give a name, gender or age, but there is some 250,000 pounds left to “the child.” As he investigates, Braddock stumbles into Stone’s web businesses and business / political relationships. The young Braddock also falls in love with the considerably older Elizabeth Stone.

Iain Pears
The story moves backward to Paris in 1890, with a tale of intrigue spun to bring down the Bank of England. But even then, the story has murkier antecedents, in the Venice of 1867, and the creation of the torpedo and adulterous relationships among the English ex-pat community.

Similar to what he did in The Dream of Scipio, Pears uses time as a major structuring device for the novel. By essentially telling the story backwards, he employs the line from William Wordsworth, “The child is father to the man.” The great events and the individual lives of today owe much to the past, even if and especially when we don’t realize it. In Stone’s Fall, that line is almost literally true, but the child mentioned in the will becomes the key to what happens over the next 40 years.

It’s a captivating read, and another great story by the author.

Painting: Canal of the Giudecca, Venice, oil on canvas by Edward William Cooke (1867). Tate Britain, London.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Hiding Place: Invasion

Haarlem, The Netherlands, September, 1939. A family of aging sisters, and an elderly father and aunt, listen to the assurances of the Dutch government on the radio that the country is neutral, it will not be invaded by Nazi Germany and there will be no war. A few hours later, Holland is at war. Five days after that, the queen flees to Britain and the government surrenders. And everything changes.

German military uniforms are everywhere. Curfews are announced. Radios have to be surrendered.

We’ve reached the point in our book discussion of The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom where the introductory chapters are over, and the story turns to one of the darkest times in Dutch and European history. It is difficult time to be Dutch, and occupied by Nazis. It’s an impossible time to be Jewish. The Jews of Haarlem gradually begin to disappear, starting with the rabbi and other religious leaders. (In a separate story, in Amsterdam, the Frank family, including their daughter Anne, goes into hiding, and will evade the Nazis for three years.)

Corrie ten Boom finds a wide array of responses to the occupation. Some people will fight it and join the resistance. Some will embrace the new conquerors and become much like them. Most will try to muddle through and focus on surviving. And some will be consumed, never to be seen again.

The last time any part of the United States was occupied at least partially by a conquering army was the Civil War. Before that, it had happened during the American Revolution. (During the War of 1812, there were battles and forays like the burning of Washington, but no sustained occupation.) Those occupations, while disruptive and often terrible, cannot compare with what happened in Europe with the Nazis. And yet people’s responses were similar – some resist and fight, some collaborate, most try to survive.

Corrie faced a choice in how she would respond. She could have ducked and likely been left largely alone. But Corrie and her family were strong Christians, and they’re horrified by what’s happening. Persecution of a Jewish neighbor leads her to help him escape, and Corrie ten Boom discovers the underground. And more than that, she will become part of the underground. She will offer herself to God to help the Jewish people.

You read a story like this one and can’t help but ask, what would you do in her situation? You’d like to think you would be courageous – we all like to think of ourselves as noble heroes – but the fact is that you don’t know. And you won’t know until you face the kind of choice and the decision Corrie faced.

She chose the path of courage and danger. She could have kept her head down and ridden out the war relatively unbothered, ignoring what was happening to neighbors and friends, ignoring the men, women and children wearing the yellow star, herded into trucks and taken away.

And she knew there could be a heavy price to pay.

Led by Jason Stasyszen and Sarah Salter, we’ve been reading The Hiding Place. To see more posts on this chapter, “Invasion,” please visit Sarah at Living Between the Lines.

Photograph: German troops rounding up Dutch Jews for deportation to the camps in Poland.