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Filtering by Tag: metaphor

What This Is

Chrysta Brown

Maggie_Taylor_cloud_sisters “What is that?” It’s more of a reprimand than a question. Across the street is an abandoned umbrella. Its metal arms are upturned and outstretched like a toddler who has only just learned to walk, or even better, to fall.

“It’s art,” I tell him. “This site-specific installment asks when an object, idea, or even human, is broken past the point of value.” We stop. I shift my green umbrella to cover more of me and less of us. Sharing umbrellas has never been a part of my skill set. Perhaps this too is a metaphor.

“What?” he shakes his head. “It’s not art. Somebody’s umbrella flipped and rather than walking five steps to the garbage they threw it on the sidewalk.”

“You are the enemy of metaphor,” I tell him indignantly.

I am only joking, but at the same time I want there to be more to the story of the discarded umbrella. I need the object in front of me to be a sign or a symbol, which I think may be to say that I need it to be something else, something universal, at the very least, something worthy of an academic nod-and-hum. This is the same need that read the Winnie the Pooh quote, “No one can be uncheered by a balloon,” and wondered, “What does the balloon mean?” Of course it means something because it is not at all possible that A.A Milne saw a balloon against a rainy-day sky and thought, “Well, that’s nice.” No, the simplicity of that explanation is unacceptable, even if it may be true.

During the 1950s, modern dance choreographer Merce Cunningham did something revolutionary with his dances. Where prior to this popular productions were about the dancers’ relationship with a story or the music, Cunningham created dances about dance. He gave dance the opportunity to be valuable and important by giving it the freedom to be about itself. In doing so, he challenged audiences appreciate what was right in front of them. “For me,” Cunningham wrote in an essay titled “Space, Time and Dance,” “it seems enough that dancing is a spiritual exercise in physical form, and that what is seen, is what is.” What a challenge this is for minds programmed to value the implication rather than the object. Can we challenge ourselves to look at a thing and value it for what it is, and not what we, for whatever personal reasons that color our experience, need it to be?

Our walk stops on a pier. Boats are docked at the edge of an ocean where wind rouses waves to dance back and forth against a vacant beach. A peach-shaded sun pokes its rays through a sky swirled with blues and grays. I want to comment on textural juxtaposition. I want to talk about beauty in the midst of such an ominous scene. I suppose I want to be thought of as clever and cosmopolitan for noticing it all. But what I need to do is be quiet. This is not a catalyst for an ancient discussion. This is a storm and a shore. This is water and sky. This is us standing quietly and watching it all.

(Art by Maggie Taylor)

I think this is a metaphor.

Lou Kaloger

Untitled In the winter quarter of my junior year of college, I convinced my roommates to run away from school. It was 1973 and I was nineteen years old. We drove from Bowling Green, Ohio to Chicago, and after three days of feeding our stomachs with deep-dish pizza and 3.2 beer it seemed right to feed our souls with a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. We wandered from one gallery to the next, when we stumbled upon a special exhibit featuring the works of contemporary artists. On a far wall was a massive painting of the head of an attractive woman. It was by the American artist, Chuck Close and it was unlike anything I had ever seen.

The painting was highly detailed. I would later learn that most of Close's work from this period was painted in a style called Photorealism. I walked closer. The woman who looked attractive from a distance began to change. Her lips were cracked. Her skin was a bit wrinkled and greasy. I could see open pores, and split ends, and caked makeup. I kept walking closer. I stood in front of the wall-sized painting. Everything was now massive —the cracked lips, the wrinkles, the open pores, the split ends. But I also noticed something else. It was an unexpected beauty. A complexity, and a depth, and a sense of design.

I turned to one of my roommates and said, "I think this is a metaphor."

Radical Correspondence

William Coleman


We are happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us.

– William Butler Yeats

I was twenty when I learned what is essential about metaphors. The poet Albert Goldbarth asked his introductory class to open the bundle of photocopied poems he'd made, and directed us to a page that lay, purposefully out of time, between Wordsworth and Sappho. Upon it were twenty words by Gregory Orr:

Washing My Face

Last night's dreams disappear. They are like the sink draining: a transparent rose swallowed by its stem.

I well recall the pedestal sink and pipe that Goldbarth drew with chalk to ensure we saw the shape the poem made. And I remember the way he drew the shape within the shape: surface petals made of water draining into a moving column of its making. And surely then he must have noted the iteration of that shape within us, for it comes so readily to mind: atop a column, the wakeful brain, an outgrowth of a stem. Further and further, he led us into the poem even as he led us deeper into ourselves. We talked of the cleansing agency of dream life, of the ways water and dreams relate. Only the clock stopped us.

Though I did not know Emerson's work at the time, I was starting to see what that cheerful visionary said was "easily seen": metaphors "are not the dreams of a few poets, here and there," but essential offshoots of our nature. Man, he said, has been "placed in the center of beings, and a ray of relation passes from every other being to him." He described this relationship as a "radical correspondence," root-level connections that allow the world and ourselves to feel "full of life."

Wakeful life is draining; it can come to feel empty. That is why I read, and why I write, and why I try to teach. It is twenty-four years since first I felt a ray arriving from Orr's transparent rose. Now I am the teacher with the bundle of poems, endeavoring to draw the water.

Shining Light into the Pit

Guest Blogger

Laura E. Steer joins the blog to share an editing challenge for a story she submitted to Relief.

Last year I was enrolled in a Non-Fiction Creative Writing class, but I didn’t have anything interesting to write about that had happened to me. After feeling sorry for myself that I’d never survived a natural disaster or overcome a terminal disease, I wrote the closest thing to fiction that I could get away with—a dream.

It was an epic tragedy. After journeying through miles of tunnel, I emerged into a sort of cavernous purgatory, where I found a young mentee of mine awaiting her sentence. The cave was complete with red lighting, smoke, and a gaping abyss that “beckoned its children to leap into its endlessness,” or, to take the drama out of it, a big hole representing eternal death. I begged the girl to escape with me, she begged me to stay in purgatory with her, and when I finally refused, she hurled herself into the pit. I then fashioned a story around the dream scene—blurbs of interactions between me and the girl, all of which built up to the emotional climax, which was the dream (and was much more exciting than anything I had to write about that had really happened).

I submitted it for publication at Relief, and it was accepted. Under the condition that I edit the dream scene. Heavily. Or remove it.

So I set to work editing. I had built the story around my dream. But the dream had morphed drastically from the abstract series of mental images produces by neurons firing back and forth in my brain that it had originally been. Somewhere along the way, I had written myself right into that endless pit and, at the bottom, found myself swimming in a vat of thick, sticky metaphor and imagery.

But the goal isn’t to fill in the Metaphor Pit with mounds of dry, subject-verb sentences. The goal is to shine a light into the pit and show its shape, to climb into it thoughtfully and chisel stories that are unique and stirring, worthy of being submitted to the public for scrutiny and applause.

I edited the dream scene down from 458 words to 87. It was scrutinized and applauded.


Laura E. Steer is a recent graduate of Malone University, where she majored in English (no, not to teach!) and minored in both Bible and Communication Arts. Though her ultimate goal is to pursue careers in editing and freelance writing, she has, in the meantime,accepted the position of Drama Director at her church. She also volunteers there as a middle-school youth leader, and plays keyboard and sings backup vocals for a Christian rock band. Beyond writing and music, Laura also enjoys consuming and creating visual art, namely photography. Her future plans include artistry, travel, and a possible move to Chicago. Laura's story "Phantom Child" can be found in Relief Issue 3.2.