Lifeblood by Rote

1.

Three blue-distant hummocks mark southeast
If you stand atop the neighborhood
Imagining a compass rose
Limned in ink against the sky.

Hung below their bellies is a dark,
Horned buttress, clearer in its nearness.
The closer hill looks clean against
The wildness of its far-off brother,

Hunkered like a preacher with
A prophet weeping at his back.

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A Big Day of Small Things

Last Friday night, we held our first Foundling House brick-and-mortar event—a dinner and concert called Echo Hill, featuring the talents of Eric Peters, Janna Barber, Palmer Gregg, Ben Bannister, Bill Wolf, and Lorraine Furtner, plus an excellent feast by Sullivan’s.

This project had been more than six months in the making. The idea always seemed to be floating around in the back of my mind that we shouldn’t limit ourselves to virtual reception of art, to interaction by proxy. That kind of distance relationship, at least where art is concerned, suffers from a fan-based mentality. Good poems, stories, and songs drift into the territory of hagiography—that glowing writing full of miracles and merit that surrounds the saints of old. If we add the personal context of presence, our work takes on different and perhaps more holistic meaning*. I had mentioned the possibility of an event to our writers’ group multiple times, trying to gauge interest and, on a more subliminal level, hoping that if I talked about it enough, I would figure out how to pull it off.

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The Ministry of Reminder

“All I ever get for Christmas is blue.”

—Over the Rhine

This past year, my dear wife and a number of my friends spent extended time away from social media due to the surplus of vitriol surrounding the election. It simply grew to be too much for some folks. Alas, for business reasons, I could not leave Facebook. I wanted to. I found myself desiring social media abstinence even more leading up to Christmas.

I confess, I abhor the onslaught of all those picture-perfect, iPhone-filtered snapshots of families doing Christmas-y things: sitting down to a feast, having a party, opening gifts, ice skating, decorating trees, decorating houses, decorating pets. You might call me a Scrooge, but I promise, it’s not that. My daughter asked me what I wanted for Christmas this year. Amongst a couple ideas of things I could actually use (a new keyboard rig would be nice, but it’s not going to happen yet), I realized what I really wanted was to be able to spend the time focusing on Christ and his coming. I wanted Advent at the forefront of our thoughts. If we as a family arrived at Christmas Day and found ourselves regretting ill-spent time pondering things other than the miraculous, time-shattering coming of Jesus, then I would be faced only with the relative vapidity of everything without Christ. Gifts, decorations, food—all things pale in light of the mystery of what C. S. Lewis called the One True Myth, the great mystery of Jesus’ coming.

Now, before you flush this little confession from your mind like so much kitsch, hear me out.

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Fir Tree

With broken wrist:
You lay on the floor,
Belly full of iron grit.

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On Valuing Absences

arches

I sat in my friend Jacob’s living room, listening through Emmylou Harris’s “Greener Pastures,” from Roses in the Snow. Ricky Skaggs and Dolly Parton joined in on vocals, and Willie Nelson played a gut-string guitar solo. The song lists as an old traditional hymn, and it surfaces once in a while in the annals of classic country and its associated genres. Ralph Stanley played it on Saturday Night & Sunday Morning, and the David Grisman bluegrass supergroup Here Today covered it on their once-in-a-lifetime project. That evening with Emmylou Harris was my first introduction to it, though. Jacob’s house is the one mile stop on my evening run, and as we plowed through sundry records and tracks, Ricky Skaggs’ vocals stood out to me in the trio. They were nearly pentatonic, with the exception of a few notes, and it lent the whole performance a power that would not have been present otherwise. I was reminded of the force conspicuous absence lends to artwork.

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