Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Sometimes I wonder what strange power leads me to the books that I 'happen' upon in our little public library. Take Coal Black Horse. This is not a book that I would ever normally pick up. And yet, I pulled it from the shelf last week, as I browsed through the library stacks. It seemed to draw my hand like a magnet does iron shavings. Once home, I had a stack of five books, but this one pulled at me when I went to choose the next read.
I've been reading a lot of theology and Biblical readings of late. Lenten studies and some work on social justice have kept me occupied, so the trip to the library was supposed to be a trip for some 'light reading'. This book is not light reading. It's a beautifully written quest novel - a young boy's voyage to find his father during one of the hardest times in American history. That voyage, seen through the inner dialogue of the young boy, carries the reader along on a loss of innocence and a confrontation with the evil that men will do when the world disintegrates to chaos.
Set in the weeks before and after the great battle at Gettysburg, Robey Childs is given the task of finding his father and bringing him home to the family's hill farm. Robey's mother has had a strange premonition and presses the momentous task on Robey with a strong admonition to secure a horse, never give it up, get a gun, shoot first and never question the instinct of survival suspicion, and to come home alive. And then, she sends him on his way.
What follows is an epic journey through hell and back. Robey's connection to the coal black horse is mystical. It has appeared at the trading post with its owner on death's door. It is aggressive and intractable, but accepts Robey's quiet and gentle way. It has an acute instinctive power to guide Robey as much as Robey guides it with the reins. When Robey discounts the horse's instinctive urgings, bad things happen.
Reading the book, lead me to contemplate our instinct for survival, the things we will do that we know are evil, but that must be done if we are to come through unspeakable events, the way we look for redemption when we have passed through a crisis. Robey does find his father, although he does not fulfill his quest in the literal sense. He does redeem himself after standing by and watching another innocent be brutalized, stealing food and horses to survive so that he can fulfill his mother's directive, committing murder, and witnessing the most horrid of Civil War battles and its aftermath. I could go into my contemplation of the horse as a symbol of one's natural dark instinct for survival. I could flip flop and talk about the horse's character symbolized as the father's will to deliver one more important lesson. I could talk about those spare lessons Robey learns while he cares for his father. I could yak on about the role that Rachel plays as an innocent delivered into the evil chaos of war and her role in Robey's growth could fill a page. The birth of Rachel's twins that occur at the end of the book and their redemptive power for Robey could become an afternoon's contemplation. And sleep ... it's powerful restoration. Well, that's another discussion.
So much for light reading ... and yet, I feel like I have witnessed a piece of literature that will be placed next to the other greats of American war writings - The Red Badge of Courage, ColdMountain, Johnny Got His Gun, All Quiet on the Western Front ... yeah, all those titles that were just as chilling, just as harrowing, just as thought-provoking and powerful.
Robert Olmstead has packed so much into two hundred and eighteen pages. One's brain and heart are full to over-flowing after this read. Coal Black Horse is a great book.
Sunday, January 10, 2016
In the Sanctuary
I love to gaze round the church as service begins.
All the dear faces softened for a moment -
taking the time to still thoughts and settle into peace,
waiting for song, sermon and benediction.
The rounded pew back is soft on my hand.
Think how many hands have rested there over time -
gripping in pain, tapping to hymn song, resting quietly,
leaning in for support and comfort.
It’s taken many a hand to build this church.
Polishing wood, dropping bills in the collection plate,
clasping in prayer, reaching to help neighbors,
cooking for, cleaning up after, crafting a community.
I don’t often think of times past, but here, sometimes,
I feel the whispered breath of a parade of souls -
Murmured prayers, soft amens, a faint humming,
loving fellowship that spans ages and echoes onward.
It’s humbling to stand in this long parade.
Sharing bread and wine and touching the same
Sacred place within heart and soul and infinity
here in this place with these people and our Lord.
Saturday, October 31, 2015
'Ghostly Figurehead' - 10/30/15
I went to the Custom House Maritime Museum in Newburyport, MA yesterday to meet up with a friend, have some walk and talk time, and have lunch. This is the only shot I took in the museum. the statue is a wooden model of Lady Justice, but it looked like a figurehead to me. It was positioned by the window overlooking the harbor and beside a glass case with a gorgeous model of a clipper ship. The photo inspired me to make a Halloween card for you all!
shared at Saturday Snapshot
Monday, October 26, 2015
A candidate for the William Morris Debut Award, In the Shadow of Blackbirds tells the story of young Mary Shelley Black's dark adventure as she flees Portland, Oregon during the fall of 1918. Her father has been swept up in the anti-German hysteria that reigned during WWI here in America. He has been arrested on treason charges and she is left to flee to San Diego to live with her Aunt Eva until his case can be settled.
This novel is full to brimming with so much historical detail that it makes it hard to believe. It's more a comment on the history of the time all wrapped up in a ghost story. Mary Shelley becomes re-acquainted with a boy she knew as a youngster. Stephen Embers has grown up to follow in the footsteps of his grandfather. He has become an excellent photographer. However, his brother has inherited the photography business, and Julius is trying to cash in on the grief-stricken families of those lost during the trench warfare in Europe. He has branched into the area of spiritualism by photographing family survivors with the 'ghosts ' of their loved ones. Stephen hates this kind of exploitation, so he leaves the family business and enlists in the Army.
Mary Shelley is left to wait for the return of her friend. When news of his death in the trenches arrives, she begins having strange nightmares, visitations, and psychic sensations that hint at a much more complicated death for Stephen. Against her Aunt Eva's instruction, she embarks on a dangerous mission to solve the mystery of Stephen's death and let his soul rest, knowing that she has made things right here in the physical world.
Mixed up in all this mystery is the real-life danger of the Spanish Flu pandemic that was sweeping the world during this time. Death seems to stalk everyone here in the physical world and in the spiritual world of Stephen Embers. Mary Shelley must go out into the chaotic world of flu-stricken San Diego in order to ask questions, research the science of photography and Spiritualism, interview young veterans of the war to try to find the answers to the mystery of just what happened to her first love when he entered the service and found himself deep in the bloody trenches of France.
While a neatly told story, I had trouble with the first person narrative. It's not my favorite type of story exposition, so I struggled with all the "I's". I also found the concept of a 16 year old girl being given the freedom to travel alone, roam the streets of San Diego whenever, go in and out of Red Cross hospitals, not attend school, etc. hard to believe. That's fiction for you, though. What's unbelievable is wrapped and packaged into a good story. This is a good story. It just would have benefited from some more work to make it a better story. As a debut novel, it shows the potential of Cat Winters. I'm hoping that she changes up her POV in her next writing endeavor and focuses her overall story line a bit more. We'll see!
In the meantime, the novel fit well into the R.I.P...X reading challenge, as well as my annual goal of reading more award-winning YA and children's literature. If you hit the above link, you can see what other participants are sharing for their R.I.P...X reading challenge posts. This is a fun annual challenge ... check it out!
Sunday, October 18, 2015
This past week a friend from my little church with the green doors asked me if I thought I could write a poem in celebration of the church's 175th anniversary. I would love to, but have been suffering the worst case of 'block' when it comes to poetry over the past year. It all started when my father passed away. I can't for the life of me think why losing Dad would dry up my poetic muse, but it has. The amount of work I've produced since his death is pitifully small.
That being said, it might be time to push myself a bit. I'd begun sharing past poems at an Open Mic event that is a monthly thing at our little church. It's what got me in this situation of being asked to write 'on demand', I suspect. I've shared some of the older things that I've written, some good pieces and some pieces that I wrote fast with the idea of editing down the line.
Now, I'm in the situation of being expected to create something new. I'm scared and I'll freely admit it. Words used to come easily. I would wake up at the strangest hours and have phrases, images, whole poetic scenarios in mind. I'd get up very early in the morning and write for an hour or two with no thought of time. I wish for those days (and nights!) to return. Until they do, maybe having a set event to write for is a way for me to come back to writing poetry. I miss the writing process and the feeling of a bloom of words and ideas uncurling and finding their way onto the computer screen or the notebook page.
Maybe it's time to begin again ... stay tuned.
Saturday, October 17, 2015
This book , while being an international bestseller, got panned in some of the American press publications. Hmmm. I can't figure out why. Yes, it's got some pat names for its characters. Yes, it's a chick lit story of lost love, paralyzing guilt, loss, insecurity and the toll it takes. It's also a nice gentle read about redeeming one's self in the face of having acted stupidly. It's about taking a chance in one's relationships in order to begin anew. It's about accepting the warped and sometimes odd reasons that people act the way they do. It's about love and friendship. What could be wrong with a gentle story about all that?
This book will never be a great piece of literature that lives for the ages, but it tells a lovely story. It's romantic, it paints lovely pictures of Paris and the French countryside. It has some pithy, yet thought-provoking statements on life and love. It's not so profound that English professor fossils will gush, but Nina George has delivered a sweet story of redemption and renewal, and that's enough.
That's all I have to say.