It is because beauty has no end in view that is constitutes the only finality here below. For here below there are no ends. All the things that we take for ends are means.
A number of years ago I began a simple research project inspired by a basically straightforward question that turned out to have a diabolically insensate answer. I wanted to find out how a person becomes a priest. I wanted to know this because my father had tried unsuccessfully to become an Episcopal priest and in the process of trying to wrap my head around that, I discovered that I couldn’t, mostly because I didn’t know if I was a practicing atheist, agnostic, Jew, or just practicing ignoring the whole subject. And once it occurred to me that I might be ignoring religion and its attendant matters, I couldn’t ignore it. I really did want to know if suffering had a greater end, whether goodness was intention or action, and which was more powerful: forgiveness or the inability to forgive.
Speaking in abstractions for work should have been heady enough for any young woman. But I wanted to get really confused and so I embarked on a deep investigation of Episcopal Church polity on the question of spiritual calling. It turns out that a vast thicket of specific ideas about calling spits you back out into a landscape of abstractions. And the whole mess starts to seem interesting yet entirely random. And perhaps for a certain kind of mind (like mine) that confusion is a comforting place to end up.
That project completed, I went to work at a fashion magazine, fact checking items like the retail price of Glam-o-bama mascara, which soon deadened what had been invigorating spiritual confusion. I left that job and a couple of hiccups later came back to literary pursuits—where in a manner of speaking I had started.
I should state here—for the record—that in my experience religion and literature have little in common. Their respective grey matter is of entirely different colors. Nonetheless we were inspired to create an issue of TLR about religion, and because we live in the kingdom of literature, narrative rules, and the lives of the saints—their struggles, outlying status, conviction, conflict, specialized knowledge, and redemption—offer great narrative.
I had forgotten, I guess, about the thickets. Forgotten, that is, until I somewhat capriciously decided to fact check the beautiful essay we have in this issue about the first Australian saint, Mary MacKillop, by Judy Rowley. We don’t typically fact check personal essays. But I was seized by that familiar old curiosity. And, after my intern spent the better part of a day trying to get confirmation from the Catholic Church about “how you get to be a saint,” I greedily took over and soon found myself absorbed in a long, wonderfully far ranging, and complex telephone conversation with a professor in Spirituality from Fordham University. He suggested several avenues of research—including getting a hold of the official Vatican dossier of Mary MacKillop’s petition for canonization, housed (of course) in Rome, or, contacting the Canon Tribunal in New York City, or simply tracking the shifting theology around what constitutes a miracle. Because, he said, “The whole idea of verifiable miracles has broadened,” to include things like living in the spirit of Christ.
Miracles in the information age, it seems, are difficult to confirm. And so when it comes to saintliness, like the most consuming human impulses—spirituality or love or suffering—facts are entirely irrelevant.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
No News Today
Nth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Getting Back to Faith
The End of the World as We Know It, Coming to a Theater Near You
What a Day, What a Day!—More Faith from the Fifties
Antlers in the Conference Room
Saving St. Sebastian
We Question Her Motivation: Titania
Winter Pool of Carp
the Handsome Devil
A Hog’s Heart; Dearest Iago,
Epistles from the Guild of Lost Angels
A Fifth To Redden
We Received the Memo to the Apothecary
The Vermin and the Stars
Poem in Which Oranges Escape and Then an Eclipse
Bedroom Life with Ceramic Frog
The Spook’s Prayer
I Will Not Be Basque Again
Dance of the Hours
The Legacy of Matilde Arcángel
Translated by Ilan Stavans and Harold Augenbraum
On Saints and Miracles
René Steinke Interview with Lydia Millet
“neither wit nor gold”(from then)
By Dan Beachy-Quick
My Two Worlds
By Daniel Reid
Rag & Bone
By D.L. Hall
The Matter with Morris
By Jena Salon
Coming to That
By John King
By Kate Munning
By Josh Billings
Krista Steinke, 2010
(Archival pigment print. Used by permission of the artist)
To see the miniature lace-clad legs disappearing into a sea of semi-sheer white taffeta in Krista Steinke’s “white” is to feel a thrill of joy and fear, simultaneously. The child appears to be falling, consumed, giving herself over to be saved by something larger, be it mother or God—and really, at that age, is there much difference? In the oldest stories, martyred saints like the combative Joan, gentle Francis, and poor Agatha were rewarded as much for their complete surrender to God as they were for boldness or charity.
It seems that Steinke was working with many of these same ideas in her photo series “Pink Pom-Poms and Duct Tape,” in which “psychological tension builds through colliding themes such as entrapment and escapism, the whimsical and the serious, beautiful and the grotesque, and reality and fiction.” The subject in these photographs is the artist’s own daughter, and Steinke expertly taps into the six-year-old’s innate ability to “transform the everyday into a contemporary fairytale or modern day myth.” This image reminds me of Icarus, a wayward saint in his own way, an ambitious young acolyte swallowed up by the sea for pushing the boundaries of knowledge.
He had the motivation and the exhibitionist personality but not the requisite faith and obedience, without which, let’s be honest, one is relegated to the slush pile in the arcane process of canonization. What we’re seeing in “white” is the performance of sainthood in the blurred motion of a swinging bare foot, the faint shadow behind a white curtain hinting at the corporeal. Steinke is correct that “the result is quirky, funny, scary, and even violent.” This girl is a saint in the way all six-year-old children are holy—fierce, imaginative, joyously delivered by the universe.
Ellen Adams (“I Will Not Be Basque Again”) is currently pursuing her MFA at Brooklyn College and finishing a book of short stories set in Spain. A Hedgebrook alumna and singer-songwriter, she has also written art criticism for the Singapore Art Museum.
Sherman Alexie (poem) is the author of, most recently, Face, a collection of poetry, and War Dances, which is poems and stories. He lives with his family in Seattle.
James Allardice’s (“Ice Cream”) work has appeared in The Iowa Review, Blue Mesa Review, Northridge Review, and Witness. His story, “Searching for Mickey Mantle’s Rookie Card,” was nominated for inclusion in Best New American Voices. He is also a photographer.
Renée Ashley (books) is the poetry editor of The Literary Review.
Harold Augenbraum (translation) is executive director of the National Book Foundation. The story he translated in this issue is part of Juan Rulfo’s The Plain in Flames, due out next year.
Eric Barnes (“Applewhite”) is the writer of the novel Shimmer, an IndieNext Pick from Unbridled Books, and the short story “Something Pretty, Something Beautiful,” a Best American Mystery Story for 2011. He is a publisher of newspapers in Memphis and Nashville that cover business and politics and has been a reporter, editor and forklift driver in New York, Connecticut, Washington, and Alaska.
Dan Beachy-Quick (books) is the author, most recently, of Circle’s Apprentice. His Wonderful Investigations will be appearing from Milkweed Editions in the spring of 2012. He teaches in the MFA Writing Program at Colorado State University.
Josh Billings (books) is a writer and translator who lives in Portland, ME. His translations of Alexander Pushkin’s Tales of Belkin and Alexander Kuprin’s The Duel are available from Melville House Books.
Danielle Blau’s poems, short stories, articles, and interviews have appeared in such publications as The New Yorker Book Bench blog, The Atlantic Online, Black Clock, The Wolf, multiple issues of Unsaid, as well as the recent anthology Why I Am Not A Painter.
Steve Bradbury’s poems, essays, and translations have appeared in Jacket Magazine, Raritan, Sub-Tropics, and elsewhere. A recipient of the PEN translation fund grant, he lives in Taipei, where he edits Full Tilt: A Journal of East-Asian Poetry, Translation, and the Arts.
Callista Buchen’s (books) poetry and prose have appeared in Gigantic, Gargoyle, jmww, >kill author, and others. Her reviews have been published in Mid-American Review, The Collagist, and Prick of the Spindle. She lives and teaches in Kansas.
Alex Cigale’s poems and translations of Russian poetry have appeared in Colorado Review, Green Mountains Review, and St. Petersburg Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, PEN America, Drunken Boat, and Brooklyn Rail InTranslation.
Joshua Diamond’s poems have appeared in Arsenic Lobster, National Poetry Review, Pleiades, and Verse Daily. He is an MFA candidate at Purdue University and nonfiction co-editor of Sycamore Review.
D. Foy (poems) lives in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in Post Road, The Georgia Review, Berkeley Fiction Review, and Quick Fiction, among others.
Jeffrey Grinnell (poems), aside from being a poet, is a recently retired technical librarian who lives near Palo Alto. His work has been published in New York Quarterly, The South Carolina Review, The Evansville Review, The Texas Review, Lilies and Cannonballs, Colere, and Spillway.
James Grinwis (poems) is the author of The City from Nome and Exhibit of Forking Paths, which was selected by Eleni Sikelianos for the 2010 National Poetry Series. He edits Bateau Press from his home in Florence, Massachusetts.
D.L. Hall (books) is author of The Anatomy of Narrative: Analyzing Fiction and Creative Nonfiction. Her work has also appeared in River Teeth, The Sun, Arkansas Review, and Apalachee Review among others. She is prose editor of Pakistaniaat: A Journal of Pakistan Studies. She teaches creative writing at Valdosta State University in Georgia.
Derek Henderson (poems) is alive and well in Salt Lake City. He is the author of Thus & and co-author, with Derek Pollard, of Inconsequentia. At present, his favorite quote is Ashbery’s assertion that “You can’t say it that way anymore. / Bothered about beauty, you have to / Come out into the open, into a clearing / And rest.”
Margaret Hermes’s (“Dance of the Hours”) collection of short fiction, Relative Strangers, will come out in winter 2012. The manuscript was chosen by Jill McCorkle as winner of the 2011 Doris Bakwin Book Award.
John King (books), an aficionado of college degees, earned his fourth, an MFA in creative writing from NYU, in 2010. While his doppelganger proudly teaches composition and creative writing at he University of Central Florida, John currently resides at an undisclosed location and toils on his epic novel, Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame.
Chloe Yelena Miller’s (books) poetry and essays have been published in Alimentum, The Cortland Review, Narrative, and other literary journals. Her poetry was a finalist for the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry and in Narrative’s Poetry Contest. Miller received an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and was a resident at the Vermont Studio Center. Miller lives in Washington, D.C., and teaches writing online at Fairleigh Dickinson University and privately.
Kate Munning (books) is the production editor for The Literary Review. When not writing for outfits like The Rumpus and Bookslut, she inhabits her alter ego as a trowel ninja and ambitious cook. Her garden is bigger than her house.
Christian Nagle (poems) holds a Ph.D. in literature and creative writing from the University of Houston, where he is a Stella Erhardt Scholar and Cullen Graduate Fellow. His work has appeared in Esquire, Raritan, The Paris Review, Southwest Review, Partisan Review, New England Review, Kyoto Journal, and many other magazines. His first collection of poems, Flightbook, will be published in English and Japanese by Salmon Poetry (Ireland).
Briandaniel Oglesby (“Kinetics”) hails from Davis, California, where he is literary manager for Barnyard Theatre. His short stories have been published or are forthcoming in ZYZZYVA, Arroyo, Mosaic, and Indiana Review.
Daniel Reid (books) lives in Dallas. He’s currently working on Dolphin Hunter, a graphic novel, and playing rock ‘n’ roll in his band Long Sword Spectacular.
Molly Reid’s (“Narrow Salvation”) work appears in Redivider, The Grove Review, and on NPR as their first Three-Minute-Fiction contest winner. She lives in Portland, Oregon, currently at work on a collection of stories.
Judy Rowley (“On Saints and Miracles”) is a former co-director of Paris Writers’ Workshops. Her essays have appeared in Fourth Genre, The Bellevue Literary Review (prize for nonfiction 2006), and Lifeboat, A Journal of Memoir. She is the author of a poetry chapbook, Venus on a Ferris Wheel, and her poems have appeared in journals both in Australia and in the U.S.
Juan Rulfo (1917–1986) (“The Legacy of Matilde Arcángel”), Mexico’s most important twentieth-century novelist, is the author of two slim volumes: the novel Pedro Páramo and the collection of stories The Plain in Flames. The latter is being published in 2012 in a new translation by Ilan Stavans and Harold Augenbraum.
Jena Salon (books) is the books editor for The Literary Review. Her short story “The Glass Cow” was recently published in Annalemma.
Dana Schwartz (books) is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her short story, “On the Ground Looking Up” was a finalist for Crab Orchard Review’s fiction contest and published in the Winter/Spring 2008 issue.
Ilan Stavans (translation) is Lewis-Sebring Professor in Latin American and Latino Culture at Amherst College. His latest book is The FSG Book of Twentieth-Century Latin American Poetry. The story he translated in this issue is part of Juan Rulfo’s The Plain in Flames, due out next year from the University of Texas Press.
René Steinke (interview) is the author of the novels The Fires and Holy Skirts, which was a 2005 finalist for the National Book Award. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Vogue, Bookforum, and in anthologies. She is the former editor of The Literary Review, and she teaches in the undergraduate and graduate programs in creative writing at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Cody Todd (poems) is the author of the chapbook To Frankenstein, My Father. His poems have appeared in Conduit, the Denver Quarterly, and Salt Hill and are forthcoming in the Gettysburg Review. He is also the managing editor and co-creator of the online literary journal The Offending Adam.
Lee Upton (poems) is the author of twelve books, including Swallowing the Sea: On Writing & Ambition, Boredom, Purity, and Secrecy, forthcoming in 2012. She is the writer-in-residence at Lafayette College.
Adam Wilson’s (“Tell Me”) first novel, Flatscreen, will be published in February 2012. He is the editor of the The Faster Times, and his work appears or is forthcoming in The Paris Review, Bookforum, The New York Times, The New York Observer, Washington Square Review, The New York Tyrant, and many other publications.