All Posts in “Writing & Publishing”

Carrying the Cross in the Suburbs: A Poet’s View

Skewed Uniformity

Poetry Editor Tania Runyan responds to the question: What are the challenges of writing poetry in the suburbs?

The suburbs kill individuality, don’t they? Every vinyl-sided house, tree-named cul-de-sac and video-equipped Toyota Sienna is toxic to the poet who needs a diverse urban neighborhood or fresh country air to survive. And how can a poet of faith possibly unearth the mysteries of God in this manicured nightmare? It’s almost impossible to hear the Spirit’s voice amidst all those kicked soccer balls.

I know sameness has its deficits. I’ve experienced the disorientation of walking into an out-of-town Walgreens with the same life-sized, cardboard Taylor Swift placed approximately twelve feet from the entrance, slightly to the left of the nail polish end cap. I’m far from home, but I can be anywhere. In fact, is there really such thing as home when you live in a place so much like other places? Can poems get made here, and more, can I pick up my cross?

The act of writing poetry has helped me follow Jesus in the burbs simply because poetry makes me notice. I don’t wait for inspiration to hit. If so, I’d never write because I wouldn’t have the energy to “feel” inspired. Let’s face it: nothing supernatural is going to leap out of my Caribou cup as I drive past Gurnee Mills for the fourth time in one day. But in writing, I must engage my senses with whatever seemingly dull moments my suburban life sets before me. And the life is not dull. Sure, there may be some uniformity in houses, cars, moms’ hairstyles and children’s activities, but that very external sameness is what turns me toward the inner realities of the people who live here. How do they cultivate a meaningful life amidst the suburban “rat race” (I’ve never seen rats race, by the way)—the real people, including me, who were designed to follow their creator regardless of geography? The sights and sounds of a place like Venice Beach or the Rockies would be too easy to poeticize: the self-proclaimed World’s Greatest Wine-O, the herds of moose crossing ridiculously impressionistic fields of wildflowers.  But what about the man who backs out of his driveway in Lake County, Illinois, at 6:42 each morning, travel mug in hand, knot in his stomach? The man like and unlike so many others? What is the landscape of his life?

Those questions enable me to write a poem, but most of all, they help me to see my daily life through the spiritual lens. And really, the spiritual should be my vision, not just a lens. When I approach my geography not with disdain but with grace, curiosity, and the dignity of fascination, I no longer see anonymous mini-malls with interchangeable Starbucks and mattress stores but sacred places where people wrestle with each other, themselves, and sometimes God. If I dare to imagine it.

Relief contributor David Wright wrote a pantoum in honor of a certain suburban woman experiencing angst over her sofa-shopping adventures. Here we see an example of Christ infusing our blandest suburban moments. The original “postcard poem” and illustrations can be found here.

And a Woman Goes To Find a Couch

And despairs at the impossible choice
and sits on every sofa in the suburbs
and lies down in a store to rest
and falls asleep one afternoon

and dreams of every sofa in the suburbs
and sees Jesus in a blue recliner in heaven
and wakes from sleep one afternoon
and is haunted by the whole vision

and seizes at Jesus in a blue recliner in heaven
and questions the Book of Revelation
and is haunted by her holy vision
and the blue-dyed decor of our eternal home

and questions the Book, the Revelation
and despairs at God’s improbable choice
and his blue-dyed decor of our eternal home
and rises up and calls her own home blest.


Sure, the Story Seems Simple . . .

Jenean McBrearty

Jenean McBrearty’s short story “Reliquary” appears in Relief 6.1. The story encompasses cloning, child-rearing, and the Shroud of Turin, among other things that evoke our relationship to the past and to the spirit world.

Red, white, or old and rugged, the cross is an awesome symbol of Christ’s power over darkness and death. In hoc signes vinces. In this sign, you will conquer. Constantine saw the message written on the heavens, put the cross on his shield, and the world was never the same. Dracula ignored the memo, and we know what the symbol does to him! Context is everything.

When life gets complicated, when its course runs, as it inevitably does, and it’s time to say good-bye, the things people leave behind in this world—their relics—are precious to the people they leave behind. They are personal symbols of the awesome power of life, of love, and experience, symbols that are testaments to God having let us be. To breathe and cry and laugh, and do all sorts of amazing things.

I’ve always been fascinated by diaries and faces, toys and tools of people who were once on this earth. Their artifacts are as holy to me as the cross or the baptistery. We live in a privileged era. Our relics will last a long time. Especially our words. They’ll last as long as the Internet, and that’s predicted to be as close to eternally as any man-made thing can be.

I wonder. Do the dead touch us back when we touch their relics?  Maybe. Maybe the line between the living and the dead will disappear with enough technology, enough research . . . but we should never mistake a marvel for a miracle.

Jenean McBrearty has been published in Main Street Rag Anthology—Altered States, Wherever It Pleases, Danse Macabre, bioStories, Cobalt Review, and Black Lantern, among others. She has self-published two novels and a short story collection. She now resides in Kentucky. God has blessed her with wonderful children, a kitty named Mr. Baxter, and a navy blue Pontiac. Her website is:

Sixteen (or so) Candles

Michael Dean Clark

Since this blog will publish on my birthday, I decided to make some wishes with it. Yes, I am aware that wishes made public supposedly won’t come true. And yet, wishes kept captive in the inner-recesses of my addled mind go nowhere anyway, so I feel safe in putting a few out there. And yes, I am also aware that making my wish list public might be taken as a tad self-serving. That’s because it is. And I’m ok with that.

Wish #1  This year, my 38th if you must know, I really hope to be found by a story that makes me feel so inferior I am compelled to write it. This is not because I have an inflated opinion of myself and my abilities. Rather, I want desperately to be stunned into the process of telling an amazing story that, for some reason or other, has not been told. I am convinced that it is not an artistic duty that drives story as much as it is the incumbent need to bear witness to the invisible.

Wish #2 Re: Wish #1 – Because so many stories worth telling get ignored for ones we’ve heard too many times before, my second wish is that anyone who ends up reading this blog will also be confronted with a story they must tell. If it happens, I’m hoping the candle I blew out with your name on it compels you to find the keyboard rather than think “Someone should really write about that.”

Wish #3 Re: Wish #1&2 – Because the desire to write a story is the response we SHOULD automatically heed, my third wish is that all of us who commit these stories to prose actually seek their publication so we are not the only ones who get the opportunity to experience them. Instead, I wish for all of these stories to eventually be submitted to various publications (and no, this is not me shoe-horning in two wishes, Jafar). If you’re not sure where to send the story you write, spend some time here.

Wish #4 And for my final wish, a little selfishness on my part (as if taking one more wish than the customary three is not selfish enough). I wish that all our stories find homes, bear witness, and inspire others to stand in the path of stories that will force them, in turn, to be witnesses themselves. 

So don’t let me down people. It is my birthday and all.

Michael Dean Clark is the fiction editor at Relief and an assistant professor of writing at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. When he’s not writing or parenting via shame and sarcasm, Clark is waiting (im)patiently for the return of Psych, and you know that’s right.

Kafka on Reading Books

I just finished listening to Krista Tippet’s interview with Walter Brueggemann, which was interesting on many levels, not the least for this quote by Kafka on reading books. If only we could always read the Bible as the “ax for the frozen sea within us”! The best literature, and the kind of thing we strive to publish in Relief, will disrupt our habitual lives and refresh our orientation to the world – and to the Scriptures.

Questions on Eternity – Lynn Domina

Lynn Domina

5.2 poet Lynn Domina discovers her human perspective and is okay with it.

For about twenty years, I’d found myself puzzled by the idea of eternity. It wasn’t so much the idea of no beginning and no end; I could almost imagine (if not understand) that. It was that with no beginning and no end, there could be no middle either—and that led to all kinds of loss. With no beginning, middle, or end, we have no sequence, no narrative, no possibility of story.

Then I read something that suggested that in eternity, everything happens all at once. I mulled this over. How could this be? How could I, for instance, stand at the bus stop on the first day of kindergarten, adopt my own child, and bake tonight’s pumpkin bread all at the same time?

Years passed. (I live in history, not eternity, and so I can say, “Years passed.”)

One day I realized that my problem was perspective. I cannot understand eternity because of my stance in time. In order to understand eternity, I would need to position myself outside of time. Since I could not actually place myself outside of time, I began to think figuratively, and I realized that if I had a bird’s eye view of time rather than of space, I would see everything happening simultaneously. Eureka! I had solved this intellectual puzzle at least well enough for myself, at least well enough that I could begin to think of other things.

I am a poet, though, not a philosopher, as much as I enjoy sitting around thinking (some would say brooding). I prefer to read and write poetry, with its images, its specificity, its concrete language, rather than philosophy with all of its abstractions. How could I ever write a poem that spoke of how I’d come to understand such an abstraction as eternity?

I sat at my desk and tried to imagine what I would see if I could have an aerial view of time. Because I live in the Catskill mountains, what I see whenever I look out a window are sloping hills, and the pines and oaks and maple trees that cover them. I see peaks tangled with bare branches in winter, tinged with green in spring, bursting into yellow and orange and red during October. Images of mountains and images of snow have drifted into my poems during the years I’ve lived here. So when I tried to imagine what I would see if I could see everything happening at once, I saw the buds on trees, and I saw the leaves surrendering to decay.

But then I came to this great truth: I don’t want to live in eternity; I enjoy living in time. I cling to story, to memory. I want to grasp the excitement of time’s rush, the contemplative solace of time’s creep. And so I conclude the poem with this blessing: not that we may each live in eternity, but that we may each live attentively, in time.

Lynn Domina‘s poems “Flickering Green, Flickering Bronze” and “Omniscience in Babel” appear in issue 5.2. Read her full bio here.