My Poem “Lord of the Storm” at Utmost Christian Writers

The poetry website Utmost Christian Writers, edited by Nathan Harms, has offered me a regular home for my spiritual writing for over a decade. This year I was honored to win First Honorable Mention in their annual poetry contest. My entry, “Lord of the Storm“, was inspired by memories of a family vacation on Martha’s Vineyard when Shane was about six weeks old. Nathan has kindly permitted me to reprint it below. The contest deadline is usually February 28, with prizes up to $1,000. Read the winners here (more runners-up will be posted on the site during the next week).

Lord of the Storm

Here is the ocean I promised you
salting your forehead with my fingertips.

Inconsolable joy.
Motherless, I mother.

Brown foam sucks the sand from under my toes,
digging a hollow shaped like my standing.

Six-weeks boy, swaddled blue as Cape waters,
your cries scouring my heart.

Down the driftwood stairs, down to the eroded coast,
carrying you, the first trust in my arms.

You came from a longer sea,
a more constant sun.

Neither of us belong to time,
un-homed from the country of sleep.

I’d thought waking for you would be no harder
than my old midnight pattern of terrors.

Three a.m. in the mildewed sunroom,
no one breathing but us and the dark waters.

All the silences wore off at once.
My ghosts became baby birds pleading not to starve.

Today’s ocean has hush enough
to spread spangled to the pearly horizon.

Each glinting wavelet a day of my history,
washing my hands as I lose it.

Your shrimp-pink fingers curl at my neck.
You open stone-blue eyes to summer’s glare.

You have no name for yourself or mother
or drowning or birth, so I will tell you:

That solid shape rocking on the distant current
could be a boat where a friend lies sleeping

as bravely as we will sleep tonight,
a man who knows where he comes from and where he is going.

Talkback to Sinatra: My Poem “I Wish I Were in Love Again”

My poems “I Wish I Were in Love Again” and “third day” have just been published as contest semifinalists in Issue #7 of OSA Enizagam, the magazine (get it?) of Oakland School for the Arts. “I Wish…” is a critical gloss on Frank Sinatra’s ballad of the same name, which romanticized a violent conflict between lovers. This poem originally appeared in Atlanta Review. (That’s right, OSA E will take previously published work. How cool are they?)

“third day” is a collage poem using phrases from a news story about the desecration of a gay man’s corpse in Senegal. The formatting can’t be reproduced in this blog template, so you’ll just have to go buy this great magazine, which features work by Donna Steiner, Anneliese Schultz, Linda Leedy Schneider, and many other accomplished poets and storytellers.

I Wish I Were in Love Again

When Sinatra sings,
I wish I were in love again,
I imagine Love is the name
of a violent town in Texas
where the one stoplight
took a bullet long ago,
dusting the dry street with ruby glass.

Where the sheriff,
big-bellied as Cupid,
didn’t see the evidence
of the split rope, the double-smudged lipstick,
the blacksnake-cold gun under the belt.

Sinatra’s voice pours the golden
whiskey of nostalgia to shimmer
over the icy rocks, like the foothills
outside Love where nothing
lives but tumbleweeds and chicken thieves.
He misses the spat of cat and cur,
the flying fur, the sparks
that burned down Love’s one church
when the preacher’s daughter
fell asleep smoking.

Lucky in Love
is the man who didn’t miss the train
in or out of town.

Love is a Many-Splendored Thing,
the mayor says,
hoping to attract
a branch of the Houston bank,
a brassworks factory or even a circus
to settle in Love,
create jobs for the men
and scarcer women who lie
in saloon alleys all night clutching
souvenirs of Love to their hearts:
a postcard, a clump of red dirt.
Who wouldn’t want such a loyal workforce?

Love is just around the corner,
if you’ve got a first-class horse.

City-trippers in the mood
for the blackened eyes
Sinatra sighs for
take the spur line to Love
en route to Laredo or Dallas.
Fanning themselves with transfer tickets,
the ladies breathe,
I’ve never been in Love before,
mistaking the crash of plates
for an emphatic whorehouse piano.

The general store hawks banjos
with one string, plasters for the knees
of old folks who fall in Love too easily,
and of course, bullets.
If you break a hip in Love
you know what happens.

Despite the weather,
Love’s no place to retire.
The all-you-can-eat buffet closes at five.
When the moon climbs the sky again
like a drunk husband going upstairs,
the city ladies take their seats
in the second-class carriage,
each with a purple bloom
aching under her blouse, or against her cheek.
It won’t fade for days.
It’s almost like being in Love.

My Poem “Robot Deer Shot 1,000 Times” at New Millennium Writings

I was privileged this spring to receive publication in New Millennium Writings, one of my favorite literary journals. My poem “Robot Deer Shot 1,000 Times” won an honorable mention in their Winter 2011-12 contest. The winners of the shared first prize included my dear friend Ellen LaFleche. Read more poetry from the current issue here. (“Robot Deer” is on page 146 of the issue, page 28 of the PDF.) The current contest, with prizes of $1,000 for poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and essays, is open through June 17; this deadline is typically extended to July 31.

This poem was inspired by one of those “News of the Weird” wire stories about a mechanical deer that cops deployed to trap poachers. The hunter’s backstory, however, simply emerged on its own as soon as I put pencil to page. You never know what your imaginary friends will tell you over a few drinks.

Robot Deer Shot 1,000 Times

Some buckshot-toting boys can’t resist
that hat-rack head lofting into view
in the sweep of the pickup’s dusty headlights,
a come-on like the barmaid’s at the Blue Note
when she slaps your hand but you know she means maybe
by how her tail switches away.
It’s poaching to shoot from the road
at night, one of those rules
on the same page as don’t drink with a married woman
or drive a locked van to Mexico,
even if your brother asks.
Maybe the barmaid can tell a pro tattoo
from the tic-tac-cross your cellie carved with a pen filler.
But you believe the buck is real
and that its brown eyes, glassy
with trust, are the worn-down night’s gift to you,
even when you shoot and shoot but it won’t fall,
clicking its proud head slowly round
like the barmaid’s heels when she glides
her tray of foaming mugs over to the college boys.
Then the Staties roll up with their toy-car lights
joking Bambi sure can take a beating,
amd cuffed on the hood you’re forced into a close-up
of the felted frame, pocked with pellets,
and it looks like your brother’s skin after the last radiation.
Tomorrow you’ll be more of a fool
at the Blue Note than you were today,
not because of the deer but the white envelopes
the cops found stuffed in your glove compartment
with poems inked on them, that some joker will shout out
during a lull in the jukebox,
and you’ll think the barmaid, brown eyes soft, is listening.

My Poem “The Name-Stone” at Utmost Christian Writers

My poem “The Name-Stone” just received an Honorable Mention in this year’s contest for Christian poets at Utmost Christian Writers. This Canadian website has been very supportive of my work over the years. Read all the winners here. (Some are still in the process of being posted as of today, April 18. Check again in a few days if you don’t see a link to the one you want.)

The poem was inspired by a discussion in my church’s adult education group about a verse from the Book of Revelation: “To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” One of our members, a retired Anglican priest, said this could refer to the ancient Near Eastern practice of friends making a keepsake at parting. They would write their names on a stone or lump of clay and break it in half, each one retaining a piece that uniquely fit the other.

The Name-Stone

(Revelation 2:17)

I will give you a stone
with a secret under it.

As children in the Galilee
wrote friendship’s names on both ends
of such a shard, and broke it
and went away, each to his own desert.

nothing to give one another
but a ragged edge
that, fit
to its companion, meant love.

Where do the gouged letters lie,
in temple midden or the royal road’s thorns?
What hands crushed the clay?

I will give you a piece
of unmarked earth.

Not the name
your mother pressed onto your lips
to seal the scroll of her sorrows.

Not the name
your father spilled
like an ox-dragged harrow,
a plow with no sower.

They only know the name
that decoy, death,
reared above the spot
where you left this ground.

Granite praises granite,
butchers weep
over the marble lamb,
speak both parts
of the absolving script.

But I will give you a riven rock
to drink from its flood heart,
the rock I broke myself
to fit you.

My Writing Career Continues to Thrive in My Absence

Since Shane was born in April, I have written one serious poem (about baby poop) and one parody poem (ditto). However, like Noah’s dove, the contest entries I sent out in the winter and spring are still returning to me, bearing sprigs of green in their little beaks.

“Poem Written on the Side of a Cow” won the 2012 Betsy Colquitt Award for Poetry. This $500 award is sponsored by Descant: Fort Worth’s Journal of Poetry & Fiction, the literary journal of Texas Christian University, for the best poem published in the magazine in the past year. Their annual submission period is September 1-April 30. This poem, which I wrote in 2003, was inspired by an anecdote I read about Sylvia Plath setting out bread and milk for her children before she committed suicide. Adam suggested the title and I figured out a plot to go with it.

After a dozen years of trying, I will finally be published in the excellent journal New Millennium Writings, which selected my poem “Robot Deer Shot 1,000 Times” as an honorable mention in their winter 2012 contest, the 33rd New Millennium Writings Awards. This twice-yearly contest awards prizes of $1,000 for poetry, fiction, flash fiction, and essays. The 34th contest is currently open through July 31. The poem was based on a “news of the weird” story that Adam sent me, about a mechanical deer that game wardens use to entrap poachers.

My poem “I Wish I Were in Love Again” was one of 20 International Publication Award winners in the Poetry 2012 International Poetry Competition from Atlanta Review. The most recent deadline for this $1,000 prize was March 1. Late one night, last winter, Adam and I were driving home from some high-pressure, adoption-related event, and Sinatra’s song by that name came on the radio. The tongue-in-cheek ballad romanticizes what social workers would call a high-conflict relationship, complete with black eyes and broken dishes. Adam said, “‘Love’ sounds like it should be the name of a violent town in Texas,” and that’s what the poem is about.

The guy is pretty good luck, don’t you think?

Gemini Magazine Is My Happy Place

My poem “Depression Is My Happy Place” was published today in Gemini Magazine, one of my favorite online journals, as an Honorable Mention winner in their 2012 poetry contest. You may enjoy it (or you may not) below. Also don’t miss the 2nd Prize poem by my friend Gerardo Mena, “A Nursing Home Boxer to a High School Volunteer”. Tony Mena is not only a talented poet; he’s a decorated Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and a musician. Check out his website.

Depression Is My Happy Place

that lake waits anytime
for me to slip
under its threaded green hush
i don’t need summer or parking
to arrive
where my hurtling family
is already one less

depression is easy to get to
even on holidays
the standards are lower than church
or kindergarten
you can run with scissors there
but you probably won’t bother

it’s my tight light box
where i turn back the sun
to a pale hum

i don’t need fattening pills
or fermented dizzy bottles
i can spin it on my own
straw into lead
because a lead house
never blows down or burns

side effects of depression may include
eating more or less
than people in magazines
sleeping more or less
by yourself
sudden loss of interest
in what your mother thinks

it’s my soft dust pillow
under the boxspring where grandma money
refuses the bankers’ conjurations
of brown fields into winking green numbers
racing round the globe
like a tornado-spun house

it’s my black screen
i won’t trade

there may be a cost-saving generic
alternative to depression
ask your doctor about marriage
smiling often and wearing a good suit
may cause people to leave you alone
did you know that your natural skin tone
adds a layer of protection at no extra charge
(some restrictions may apply)

depression is not recommended
for unattractive women

My Poems “Inheriting a House Fire” and “touching story” in Solstice Literary Magazine

Solstice Literary Magazine, an online quarterly, selected two of my poems as the “Editor’s Pick” from their contest submissions this year. “Inheriting a House Fire” and “touching story” appear in their Summer 2011 issue. Launched in 2009, Solstice has published such authors as Kathleen Aguero, DeWitt Henry, Leslea Newman, and Dzvinia Orlowsky. Enjoy (if that’s the right word?) “touching story” below.

touching story

not the turn to gold but touch he
wanted most, no object that
flesh of his
supper gelled to shining
ore lumps when he bit, that sepals
stiffened on the rose
like nipples bared to frost. not
the lark that lasted but the scar
its moneyed weight peeled
down the tree. not the trophy
hound, that sudden andiron
dropped from his lap,
but the fox, stinking, invisible,
myth to asses’ ears,
no nodding velveted clefts
named his errata, not a page
or armed barber kissed the riverbed
to scandalize the reeds
into singing true. and when his
as he’d tell it, sprang
into his transmuting arms, and after,
there was no god to take the
   hardening gift away.

Poemize the Patriarchy!

I’ve just begun reading Kathryn Joyce’s expose of evangelical doctrines about female submission, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Simultaneously, I discovered the Random Poem Generator. The “poemized” ad copy for Vision Forum’s Heroines of Christ’s Kingdom Paper Doll Set reveals some interesting subtexts:

Doll voices inside list,
catalog mullins site bluebehemoth!
jackson two switch wrist,
an adams as behemoth.

Christ stock adelina six,
daughters stock older paper.
eliza shopping women fix,
calvin paper for taper.

Online god online six,
retail outlet reviews stock.
dolls wives anne fix,
regular jackson vision cock.

My Interview on the Mass Cultural Council ArtSake Blog

Last year I was honored to receive a fellowship for poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. Since then my gratitude has only increased, to see the publicity support that the MCC gives its fellows and finalists. In conjunction with our reading last week at Forbes Library in Northampton, the MCC’s Dan Blask interviewed me on their ArtSake blog. Here’s a sample:

ArtSake: Along with your poetry, you also write fiction and nonfiction. Do you approach writing prose differently from the way you approach poems?

Jendi: Yes, definitely! Poetry and fiction must be written by hand with a mechanical pencil in a 6×9 Mead Five Star notebook. Nonfiction, by which I mean my blog posts about gay rights and Christianity, is written on the computer. I don’t know how to shape a narrative in creative nonfiction. There are too many facts, and most of them were hard enough to live through once.

When I write poetry, I’m not thinking about an audience. What wants to be written, gets written. It’s like a computer’s self-diagnostic. I write to find out what I think. Naturally, my values and preoccupations are reflected in the poetry, so in that sense, it often contains a critique of society, but it’s driven by my own need to express my authentic inner experience, rather than to have a particular impact on others. (Though I wonder whether the two are really so separable – doesn’t every self-disclosure cherish a tiny hope of being recognized and responded to in kind, however much one tries to cultivate self-protective detachment?)

My novel-in-progress is about a young fashion photographer in 1990s NYC who struggles to reconcile his faith and his sexual orientation. With this project, I have more of a conscious intention to bring about social change, along with telling an entertaining story.

Writing a novel is harder than poetry because it’s impossible to be in the “flow” for that length of time. With a poem, by the time I figure out where my subconscious is taking me, the trip’s over. I don’t have much opportunity to get in my own way. Far more planning has to go into the novel, which means that there are many chances for self-consciousness and ideological agendas to seize control, instead of letting the work tell me, itself, what it needs to be. I counteract this problem by conceiving of the novel as a collaborative effort between myself and my characters. They’ve got to retain the freedom to surprise me. My job is to see enough of the big picture so that they don’t get lost and despondent, but not be so directive that they lose their independent life force. It is a constant, elaborate, frustrating, fascinating dance that calls on all my relationship skills, and maybe even improves them in the so-called real world.

I do my creative writing by hand because this slower, temporally linear method allows intuition to take the lead. Writing on the computer, it’s too easy to pull back and see the big picture, to let the analytical mind start rearranging and criticizing, and skip past that quiet inwardness where the soul of the poem or story gestates.

Read the rest here. Videos of myself and my talented co-readers Rosann Kozlowski, Nancy K. Pearson, Cynthia Morrison Phoel, and Jung Yun are available on the Winning Writers YouTube channel.

My Poem “not with the old leaven” Now Online at the St. Sebastian Review

My poem “not with the old leaven” is now online in the first issue of the St. Sebastian Review, a new literary journal for GLBTQ Christians and allies. Yes, we do exist! As editor Carolyn E.M. Gibney says in her introduction:

Many times over this past year, in the midst of my clumsy attempts to get this journal going (It’s sort of
felt like learning stick shift all over again: You think you’ve got it, then you lurch forward violently for a
few seconds, sit stunned for a moment, and start the damn car once more.), I’ve had people – mostly
genuinely concerned and gentle people – ask me: Why would you create a journal for queer Christians?
How many of you are there?

My answer is always the same: Twelve. There are twelve of us. (At this point in the conversation I smile
and tell them I’m kidding. Which I am. Mostly.)

It’s true that this seems like a bit of a strange niche. Queer Christians tend to fall into the section of the
Venn diagram that most people either A) don’t think exists (which in most cases is easily rectifiable), or B)
vehemently deny is metaphysically possible. ‘You can’t be gay and Christian!’ they say.

Word on the street, though, is that metaphysics can only take you so far. (Buy Martin a beer and he’ll tell
you why, in the end, he never could finish Being and Time.) And, in any case, the problem, unfortunately,
has never been metaphysical. The problem is not whether gay Christians can or should exist. The problem
is that we do exist, and that people still consider our existence a metaphysical question.

The question of being queer and Christian is deeply, terribly physical. And immanent. And quotidian. (‘See
my hands?’ I would like to say back. ‘See, here: Touch the wound in my side.’)

That’s partly why I started this journal. I want to affirm that the question of the intersection of queer and
Christian has moved, must move – entirely and completely – from the realm of the metaphysical to the
realm of the ethical. The question, now, dear friends, as I’m sure you already know, is not ‘What?” but

The issue is available for download as a PDF here.