Gospel of Luke by Shaun O’Reilly

Hey luke!
Why did you write the stories that you did?

opening a door, inviting us
into a hilarious, upside down world
virgins become pregnant
an old lady grows a baby and
a wild-eyed, weird prophet is more important and influential
than emperors and high priests
kids do crazy shit:
“extra, extra! shepherds leave 99 sheep to fend for themselves while going off to search
for one lost sheep!”
a Samaritan is made the generous hero
and a foolish son is celebrated for simply coming home?

seems the root is a mysterious love

am i supposed to imagine i stop living and loving with prudence and caution?
am i supposed to imagine i stop holding grudges, begin forgiving enemies?
am i supposed to imagine i stop clinging tightly to what i got and begin giving it away?
am i supposed to imagine i stop ignoring the debt i owe – to God, parents, teachers,
mentors, friends, even enemies … and
live from gratitude?

am i to imagine i stop dolling out love only by the tiny thimble-fulls?
imagine i vigorously weep it, love,
washing another’s feet with tears and drying another’s feet with my hair.

i want to tell you that it’s too much, but I think you know that.

You say: Beware!
at the root is a mysterious love, a manacle around us, existing only in this kind of
community
and it is hard to hold both this and pride, this and money, this and my stature all at once.

Aren’t I self made? D’I get where I am by my own powers (no help from anyone)?
Haven’t I worked hard and earned it all?
Then, no need to share it with some broken-hearted, broken-down “other”
human being who is, God knows, probably poor
by her own choice or foolishness, or something.

You say: clinching like this clouds the record of the mind.
That I forget my past community, its tune
That I insulate from a present community, wiping the reality of needs away from my

life’s windshield, with the flick of a button of my pride.

You say: the best thing about being poor is that one can’t forget community
can no longer pretend to make it on their own.
lacking power and control,
I am in need of help.

Perhaps then, you want me to remember those spiritual ancestors
man and woman with LIFE in a garden.
From thousands of trees full of delicious fruit available for nourishment and delight,
Only one tree was off limits, and … we couldn’t stand it.
Our power will not be checked by the friend from the cool of the day.

You say what that story and my life tell me: when I grab for power I lose community.

I have heard it said, “it is better to give than to receive.” but even that’s
upside down with you, like you say it’s almost better to be:
Learning to wait, looked on with grace, holding out hands.

And, then and there, in your 2nd chapter (though you didn’t write them in chapters, still)
it’s there,
people
following a star
to a baby:

Jesus is come.
come to lay down his power; free me to lay down my power.
come to lay down his life; free me to lay down my life.
come to deal with our pride, with the thoughts of our [proud] hearts.
come to say, in grace and mercy,
“Come” to upside-down community, where it sometimes feels
just perfectly right side up.

luke, I don’t know why you wrote the stories that you did
but I am waiting and watching,
holding out hands,
ready for someone to tell them again.


Photos by David Farris


Final Winter by Sonya Barron

Sometimes winter refuses to end, even in Texas. I observe from afar as my friend trudges through her darkness, through the barren land of her Winter. Though the force of the wind attempts to trap her where she stands, she steps sluggishly towards something in the distance, towards the faint sweet fragrance of hope . . . towards me. I now stand in my Spring where the bitter chill gave way to warmth, the paralyzing wind to a welcoming breeze, and the pervasive darkness to all encompassing Light.

She comes closer. Dogwood trees and the sweet fragrance of newly blooming azaleas surround me. The Dogwood surround me, but they cannot offer protection. Their limbs cannot carry the weight of my fear and anticipation of the emptiness, the sorrow she carries with her as she approaches. The fragrant gift of the azalea will die before she arrives, not blooming again until another season, another season whose arrival is not guaranteed.

She comes closer. She sees me now, and I stand facing her, paralyzed in the distance. I look down in avoidance, but I know she recognizes me; she desperately wants answers, explanations I cannot offer. Her steps quicken. My fear grows. The haunting whistle of the wind that blinds her continues to chase me in my dreams. The darkness from where she travels once imprisoned me, and the desperation, the hopelessness, the vast emptiness once fought to destroy me. But I somehow escaped.

She comes closer. Only a creek separates us now as the distance dissolves between us. Clouds cover the sun, and the rigid air and haunting whistle accompany her as she travels towards me. I now hear her steps coming down on the cold, hard ground. I continue to avoid her searching eyes, staring instead into the shallow water between us. The warm air dissipates, and its chill steals my breath. I peer into her reflection in the water. Her eyes find mine, looking for answers. My fear paralyzes me. A chill traps me where I stand. The creek’s water begins to shift, to transform, to freeze, forming a glass bridge between us. I look hesitantly into the reflection and realize that it is not my friend’s face and eyes I see. I see my own instead.

The freezing air swallows the warmth of the Sun, and I hold back the sob in my throat as I realize my Spring is gone. Two weeks of hope, of promise, of expectancy. Snow returns and brings the chill, the pervasive crippling darkness. If Spring returns, we won’t trust it; we’ll turn our heads away from the Sun and bury ourselves in our own darkness, our own unending winter. Sometimes Winter refuses to end, even in Texas.


rain by Blake Mankin

Tears of joy come flowing from the heavens, licking her desert of a face and crawling to the dryness of the materials woven together to cover her private skin. An army of colorful umbrellas bob up and down as students stroll in haste towards their academic destinations. She, on the other hand, refuses the barrier between head and sky. Partly because she doesn’t own what the rest of them do and mostly because the joy that warms her skin in the absence of portable shelter is simply beautiful. The tears of joy start to flow stronger from the ducts of the cosmos, but she refuses to add speed to her steps. In fact, she slows the ‘pit-pat’ of her feet on the wet concrete to a calm murmur, a sound that stands in contrast to the growing roar of the drops slamming the pavement. Peaceful interactions with strangers brought together by the sky’s waters. ”You forgot your umbrella, too?” says a fellow standing next to her at the bus stop. His voice has an overwhelming tone of regret, and her response catches him off guard. Smile on her face, drenched to the bone, she looks at him almost with a sense of pity saying “something like that.”


“the big man” by Steven Harrell

if one must have a mind of winter
and been cold a long time
to regard the this and that of the darkness and coldness and bleakness and fierceness and terribleness of winter
then what sort of mind must you have to look at the christmasness of christmas?

what sort of mind can look at the rows of cards, most colorful
all of gatherings
and not feel cold?
pastel paintings of the Native T Scene
kings gathering with shepherds and their mooses
who teach us about the humility necessary for effective
class warfare
and the ultimate efficacy of a strong agrarian populous
bolder, primary colors show families gathering around an
enclosed fire
and roasting chest-nuts
so called because they come from
the chest of the tree, broad and strong, with leaves ripped off
in the great waxing season that is autumn
some cards, for the inbred, show a fat bearded gentleman in a
swimsuit lying on a beach somewhere drinking beer and the slogan
merry christmas y’all

what sort of mind lies to children
telling them that the fat man watches them in secret all year
then assigns them rewards based on three criteria:
1. good / naughty behavior
2. belief in beings invented by the coca-cola company during the 1930s
3. father’s income level

if santa clause is like santa monica, CA
then santa must mean saint and clause is like the german name klaus
with a certain sort of mind, it makes sense that santa would be german
he’s got a regimented, methodical, rules based society.
he makes lists.
he double-checks his lists for luther’s sake.
would my child cry to learn that jolly is a unit of the metric system?
these are the people that have a whole governmental agency dedicated to making sure that the ratio of nutmeg to molasses to ginger in gingerbread equals √g +nm_2
tiny elves work in efficient assembly lines with two
15 minute cigarette breaks as their time clock
keeps them on pace to complete the work by thanksgiving
jin-gle-bells-jin-gle-bells-jin-gle-bells-jin-gle-bells-jin-gle-bells-jin-gle-bells
a strike? not in this socialist federation, comrades.
work is your freedom.
well, work and 6 weeks vacation a year, plus universal healthcare.
so what if the big man upstairs is watching?

what sort of mind sees “happy holidays” as a threat?
you didn’t put artificial plants made by child laborers in atheist china on the laminate countertop of your capitalist bank in religiously free america?
two words: grinch list.
two more: just kidding!
two more: not really.

see that lady? red shirt, tired eyes.
yeah, the single mom working a second job for the holidays so her kids can have a couple video games and some dignity?
that bitch ruined my christmas.
the nerve.
the tag said it was on sale.
doesn’t scan?
must be free!
freefreefreefreefree!

be good for goodness sake?
horseshit.
be good so you can get the good stuff.

what sort of mind tries to convince their children
that a miraculous, all-knowing man comes down
from his winter retreat in order to make them happy?
they all find out the truth, eventually
maybe they don’t get some plastic thing they really wanted
or a know-it-all older sister spills the nutmeg
or the little brat finally starts using his head
and realizes the sheer non-probability of it all
that it really is just a story that is too good to be factual
invented to make us feel
not good, but just feel
ok, you got me, the parents say
i went to college
and i don’t really believe in this jesus thing either
but your grandmother wants us to go on christmas eve with her
and whenever your uncles in town we’ll sing that carol’d angels song
and it is a very nice story with some good ideas
about cheer and love and peace on earth and ho ho ho
and mistletoe and presents
for pretty girls

but the thing is, my family is a pain in the ass
and christmas makes lonely people kill themselves.
jesus didn’t save paul
marley was dead: to begin with
and santa forgot my pony.

what sort of mind gets it
knows that the main theme of christmas is unfulfilled promises
donny was going to take me to see the trains
and santa was going to bring an xbox
and mom and dad weren’t going to fight
and dinner would be ready on time
and the rolls wouldn’t be burned this time
and cheryl was going to master the lattice top crust
and poor kids would be able to afford their own damn toys
and the son of god would come to town
and show us how to live
and model how to love
and finally teach us the true meaning of justice so that socrates wouldn’t have to keep asking
and eventually, we wouldn’t have to keep killing our goats
every time we did what we were born doing

what sort of mind gets it
knows that the main theme of christmas is unfulfilled promises
and chooses still to celebrate?
is it the thrill of hope that makes a weary world rejoice?
fall on your
knees fall on
your knees fall
on your knees


i n v e r n o ( w I n t e r )

By Holly Holland

In honor of my brother who loves all things exotic in culture, nature and beauty. I commend his courage and willingness to recognize opportunities of inverno.

I’m not capable of comprehending solitude.
Eight months of chosen solitary confinement to a cabin surrounded with nothing more than silence of a snow-covered land and limited amenities seems less than desirable to most.
Unique in every sense of the word and then some, one in particular, has found rest, work and even companionship among wildlife to support his quest.
Recognized intently as an opportunity that will never repeat itself in his lifetime, he has traveled to desolate lands willing and eager to capture winter at it’s best. Quite possibly a winter that none will ever be given the privilege of enjoying.
Cold and frigid day and night, a tiny fireplace sustains his comfort while inside cabin walls.
Outside scenes only dreamed up in magazines are now reality captured by the modern technology of a camera lens, so tiny in comparison to the vastness that is Alaska.
Living among “la terra congelata”, or the frozen land, entertainment now comes in forms of intricate icicles or the rare strut of a moose passing through it’s claimed territory.
Verbal communication between the human and nature is non-existent; yet a divine understanding occurs leaving him simultaneously at the mercy of this special season both solitude and inverno.


Deoxyribonucleic Arsenic by Brian Rhea

The four most common elements in all living organisms are carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. Sprinkle in some phosphorous and sulfur and there you have the six elements which build the strands of DNA that exist in every living thing from a single-celled prokaryote to a humpbacked whale.

Every single living thing.

And yes, I totally Googled prokaryote.

But still, this is an amazing thing. It’s remarkable enough to consider how musicians across the ages have rearranged and recombined the seven available notes or pitch classes or whatever it is those pretentious bastards like to call them. They have worked within those constraints to produce a library of songs that, when considered en masse gives a sensitive soul chills, and when listened to individually in the right context, will break a grown man’s heart.

And that’s just music.

Continuing to consider the building blocks of lifeforms, the six — carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulfur — also work with about 20 of the other elements like sodium, magnesium and others to round things out. In the same way a musician might bring in drums, a tambourine, or if they really want to annoy the hell out of everyone, a synthesizer.

Now, having been blown away by the diversity of song, observing and further imagining the diversity of life is to be left feeling utterly ashamed at how little you have created.

Shame may not be wholly accurate. Humbled? Whatever. This may just be how I am left feeling – I haven’t read quite enough Foucault or Derrida to be able to completely pull myself from behind my own lens. I couldn’t even spell their name right without double-checking Wikipedia.

Is it clear yet how completely stupid I am when the internet is down?

Humilty, shame, wonder.

Hopeful? Scared?

Amazed.

Regardless of what or Who (if anything) is writing Life in the language of the periodic table; and regardless of what you think about that what or Who (if anything); and maybe more specifically why a philosopher from a country with long winters might say you think all of that in the first place, I think that regardless, surely, we can pause for a moment, consider these six elements … and be Amazed.

We might also consider something toxic, like arsenic, and be transformed.

On December 2nd of this year, Felisa Wolfe-Simon of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute announced some incredible findings from her research involving the bacterium strain known as GFAJ-1.

Using a method I can only assume is slightly more complicated that inserting frog DNA in to the missing holes of dino DNA, the team took arsenic-rich mud and grew the sample of bacteria in “ever-decreasing concentrations of phosphorous”. What the bacteria appears to have done is replace the disappearing phosphorous with the abundant element that just happens to be one step down on the periodic table, arsenic.

All the way down to its DNA.

These findings are obviously controversial. There is a tremendous amount of peer review, extended research, and what scientists refer to as “pissing matches” yet to be undertaken.

But, if these findings are reliable, it turns out that there is a Key of H. Or, at least, given certain conditions, there can be.

These sorts of discoveries are transformative.

I also think there’s something poetic about the element in question being arsenic. Although, I prefer to think of it metaphorically not as something toxic and lethal, but instead as something entirely foreign. Dangerous, but not life-threatening.

Until 1697, the western world believed that all swans were white because that was the only thing they’d ever observed. All swans are white therefore swans are only white. And then, some guys got bored, went to Australia and ka-blam-o, black swans.

A hundred million observations of white swans and decades of assumption undone by one single black swan. One single observation. Arsenic. The Key of H.

I have only ever lived in Texas and so I have only ever lived in Texas. Maybe I would like Colorado.

You have only ever _blank_ and so you have only ever _blank_. Maybe you would like _blank_.

All of life requires carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorous and sulfur. Or, maybe, arsenic.