Primarily, No Purple – creative nonfiction by Ellen Huang

Primarily, No Purple

“Yeah, we found people breaking this rule once. They said they were doing fellowship.” The incredulous tone of the pastor said it all. The chapel murmured and muttered into a collective laughter. “Sure you are,” the laughter said. Teenagers; naive, stupid youth; never realizing how one thing leads to another. Fellowship! as if!

But that was exactly what we were doing. As the audience and leaders ridiculed the anonymous example, I shrank back on the inside. Winter Retreat was only feeling increasingly lonelier this time. It seemed that everyone, without knowing us, made assumptions about our relationship dirtier than things actually were.

The rule was simple, and I understood in the rush of our culture why the rule existed. “Let me put it this way,” I’ve heard many a counselor say. “The boy cabin is blue, the girl cabin is red[/pink]. [A pause]. No purple.” We were a retreat of Christian youth and in our faith, love was as precious as life and as significant as death—just as you wouldn’t want to meet your maker before your time, you shouldn’t want to awaken love before it so desires. This was also a certain kind of love that everyone alluded to but never addressed, as if everyone was bound to be twitterpated in the same way. It was this kind of mindset, and almost avoidant fear, that started to estrange the kinds of friendships I had.

I grew up with a motley group of friends in church, that my mom once admired for its diversity. “I like how you’re all different ages and grades and have guys and girls,” she once said. My mom, loving me so much and knowing our group so well, threw a unique sweet sixteen surprise for me, letting these friends in on the surprise. What with games of hide-and-seek, E.T.-referencing prayers, and Wreck This Journal, it became probably the most childlike and tomboyish sweet sixteen I knew, and it was perfect. What did surprise me, though, was when I leapt to hug one of my closest friends after opening his gift. After the party, my mom said, with an awkward frown, “I know you’re excited…but no hugging boys.”

And so the differences began. I had to break it to my closest friends that as pure as our intentions were, we were never allowed to have that slumber party, even if guys slept in another room. As far as we imagined, we were just going to hang out like we always did, the only difference being the nighttime setting, allowing us to share deep discussions like in lock-ins. But apparently, not at our house, because you know, one thing always leads to another, and better safe than sorry.

I understand where this mindset comes from and I understand the concern parents have. I understand how the norm is, how society is, and I understand the Christian’s heart in valuing—and waiting for—intimacy. What I think is difficult for the community to understand, however, is that there are different kinds of intimacy besides the kind to procreate.

Julie Rodgers, one of the most authentic and life-loving speakers I’ve ever heard visit my school Point Loma Nazarene University, spoke on these different kinds of intimacy: all equally wholesome and blessed and good. While exploring her identity and the then possibility of celibacy, she expressed how humanity was not created to be alone—but even those who don’t end up marrying and having sex can wholly experience intimacy. There is such a closeness in cooking pasta together with neighbors, a pleasure in playing football with someone you share so much in common with, a depth of awe and wonder in really “doing life” with people in your church. And we miss that, sometimes as a church, when all we can think of as the end-all goal is getting married and starting a nuclear family. When we don’t need to contribute to the family that church is supposed to be, when we think having our own literal families to take care of is enough. Where does that leave people who don’t quite get that ring by spring? Are they less whole for not having found that complementary other half? Romantic love is a crazy-amazing-beautiful thing, but it isn’t the only thing.

Hearing Julie speak, I got the sense of clarity and felt less alone in the world. She gets it, I thought. I had never heard someone describe the desire of my life so deeply, fully, empathetically.

And although Julie has since grown to love and blissfully marry a woman—which I celebrate—and it turns out I am oriented differently, her advocacy for the necessity of platonic love even then still rings true for me today.

I go back to environment in the church I grew up with. My closest friends there happened to be guys, and sometimes at our church, for whatever reason, there was a segregation of the sexes. Girls happened to conglomerate here, while guys gathered over there. In youth groups, even after just a movie night, we split up by gender in order to discuss the movie. And for whatever reason (based on my ability to relate, not to be taken as an accurate picture of these individuals’ complexities), I felt I could relate better to the guys there, have soul-searching conversations about what something really meant or symbolized. After The Young Messiah, the girls’ group speeded through worksheet questions about how Jesus was so pure for not fighting back when bullied as a child (and how we should follow that example). We lightly prayed and made fun of the slowpoke guys as we got to the snacks first. Meanwhile, I saw the circle of the guy small group from afar, especially my friends, deep in some conversation. I longed to talk to them about the film. How Jesus believed the girl who killed to defend herself against a drunk assaulter to be innocent.

I get that not everyone’s comfortable with the idea of co-ed groups, but why couldn’t we learn from each other?

“Always have your best friend be the same gender as you, or else you will fall in love, and it will break you,” a Sunday School series on purity instructed us. “Also don’t date until you’ve been friends first.”

(Okay, that one I can understand—if dating was toward a goal of marriage, it was bizarre to me why anyone would date any stranger with great hair).

“Always have your accountability partner be the same gender as you—but not your best friend, or else they’ll just agree with everything you do.”

These rules were getting hard to keep track of.

Though I could see the concern about flings in our age group, how does one regulate others’ developing friendships? Though I understood the necessity of defining relationships and being on the same page, how does one prescribe a now-or-never relationship? And if the only friends who really got me happened to be of a different gender, why should the only way to pursue our Christ together follow the ways of what society has hyper-defined us as? Jesus broke all the social norms of His day and with pure intentions had deep conversations with women. Why can I not with pure intentions have deep conversations with men?

Maybe I’m not preaching to the choir but to a minority within a minority. Maybe the majority of men and women experience an irresistibility I don’t. Okay, I might be starting to sound like Max the “airhead virgin” in Hocus Pocus who lit a candle because he didn’t heed warnings what it would bring. I can’t speak for everyone, I can’t speak for the guys, and I’m not here to prescribe to you any certain lifestyle.

But I think back to the night we broke the rules of Winter Retreat. We were wrestling with questions of faith, doubts, and identity. We tried to have conversations in our separate gendered small groups, but as friends our motley crew met up afterwards. A cabin game of mafia turned into a light in the darkness, when we shared about real life concerns in a space of true empathy. The next night, after 10pm praise and worship, we approached each other naturally.

“Are we doing the thing?” “Yeah, we’re doing the thing.” We knew where to meet, and we sat on the cold wooden floor and just talked. My friend, whom I’ll call Diaval, had even brought along a new girl, new to our churches, new to Christianity, really. (Let’s call her Kiara). Then and there we showered her with our raw thoughts about our church, about what was awkward and difficult and yet what was hopeful and good and kept us believing. A Winter Retreat of equally lamenting in doubts grew into a reminder of why we still had our faith. That night, we even referenced Harry Potter’s discovery of identity in magic as a way of describing to Kiara the powerful identity of being children of God. Caught between wanting to listen and wanting to talk, I could barely get a word in. A little annoying, not gonna lie, but that was how passionate our circle was to jump in and speak truth. Diaval then asked that we pause, and Kiara said she was overwhelmed at what all the community in this faith means.

Suddenly, the cabin door barged open on us. “OH MY GOD!” someone yelled. A bright light flashed in. A cluster of adults and another girl were waiting outside. We were busted.

Not only was it late, but turns out they had been going around from cabin to cabin in the snow searching for Kiara. They had all been so worried about her. Their focus, of course, was her safety, and this fear that she had run away or come to harm. There was such relief that she was found. In the arms of the girl who led the search, Kiara cried. She hadn’t intended to “run away;” she didn’t realize people would care so much about her missing. Inside I started to worry how the search group saw us, this late-night group of teenagers snuck away in a cabin. Did we look like we kidnapped her—or worse, led her astray?

Well, I guess the following year at Winter Retreat, when the pastor made an anonymous example of us, I got my answer. Luckily none of us had gotten into trouble, and luckily we weren’t called out by name, but sadly people didn’t believe we were sincerely trying to do fellowship in the warmest setting and most platonic sense. The adults seemed to believe teenagers were only thinking about one thing all the time, maybe even especially the guys.

I think back to that secretive, hideaway night. That night we were Lost Boys in a fast-growing world, falling and trying to find our happy thoughts again. We were Wild Things as a forest grew in our room, and we wanted to be where we were loved most of all. And we just talked. We were so real, and contemplating, just contemplating, what it means to hope.

 

Ellen Huang holds a BA in Writing and a minor in Theatre from Point Loma Nazarene University. She has pieces published/forthcoming in HerStry, South Broadway Ghost Society, Moonchild Magazine, and Gingerbread House, among others. She lives in San Diego with queer Christian friends. Follow her creative work: worrydollsandfloatinglights.wordpress.com

Moths and Oak – a poem by John Gimblett

Moths and Oak

A corral of dun moths are brightened by the hose
and when wettened lift themselves from leaves and
hop softly onto some other, drier surface. It’s a

mast year here; the oak that’s their shelter is
heavy with nuts. Later in the year I’ll be cursing
them – as will my neighbours! – when seedlings

sprout from every spare inch of earth. I’ve pulled
on the smaller branches, cut them to thin out those
within reach. I’m not tall. Most of the tree is beyond me.

 

Living in Wales, UK, John Gimblett is primarily a poet and novelist whose work has been published widely. He has read at the Hay Festival (‘The Woodstock of the mind’ – Bill Clinton) and elsewhere. His novels are crime/thrillers set mainly in his home city. #NewportNoir @johngimblett

 

Just Ahead – a poem by Cynthia Pitman

Just Ahead

I wander through the wide wild world
that beckons me,
not knowing where I am,
not knowing where I go.
This might be the place I seek,
these sloping hills and valley shadows.
Their close embrace could keep me
sheltered from cold, safe from harm.
But I pass them by with scarce a look.
The way must be ahead.

This way lies a verdant field
laden with flowers golden.
The wind rolls gently
over the new spring grass,
caressing its silken green.
Maybe I should settle here,
live in grace, die in peace.
But I have no way of knowing
if this is It, if It is this.

As I travel longer, weary, worn,
the trees before me bow,
humbled by my noble search.
The birds salute me
with songs strong and stately sung.
Then the bowing branches sweep high.
There the ocean awaits,
its jeweled glory shining:
liquid diamonds,
melted silver, opals bright –
they mirror the sunlight.
The sand lies warm and white,
a welcoming place to finally rest
my worn out Self
from my search out-worn.

But I do not stay.
I cannot stop.
It must lie ahead.
I must keep looking.
So I still seek the Promised Land,
always searching, always searching.
It must be waiting just ahead,
unless It’s now behind me.

 

Cynthia Pitman, a retired English teacher, has been published in Amethyst Review, Third Wednesday One Sentence Poem Contest (finalist), Ariel Chart, Vita Brevis Press, Leaves of Ink, Right Hand Pointing, Ekphrastic Review, Postcard Poems and Prose, Literary Yard, Adelaide Literary Review, Quail Bell, and others. Her poetry collection, The White Room, is forthcoming.

from POND – poetry by John Stanizzi

3.1.19
8.00 a.m.
22 degrees

Pristine pond…not a track, not a windblown ridge; I am
obliged to whisper give thanksfor this most gentle snow.
Noiselessness is an image in this softest flurry, as two robins
drink from the chill stream, my presence just another piece of the drama.

3.2.19
8.38 a.m.
29 degrees

  a       Snow 3-5 predicted.

Purifying snow, steady and in relief on all the branches, and yet
our thoughts this morning are of the coming warmth; your days are
numbered snow storm, and although the pond is a flawless white,
days of emergence, of new life, days of color are right there, almost in sight.

3.3.19
8.37 a.m.
3 degrees

 
Pussywillows have blossomed, heralds of spring, though a storm is in the
offing — six to eight inches overnight.  Three creatures have made their
nightly crossing over the pond, or one creature has crossed three times,
deft and as lithe as my boot-prints are emblems of a lumbering thing.

3.18.2019
11.51 a.m.
25 degrees

a         W.S. Merwin
                        September 30, 1927 – March 15, 2019
 

Point to any tree, any snag for that matter, all gradual, all named,
occasions so insignificant, so intimate, that their creating went un-
noticed, will go unnoticed unless it is to say, in a whisper to myself, the
denotation of each of these trees is that they are William’s trees, here and everywhere.

3.19.2019
11.51 a.m.
25 degrees
 
Phonetics fill the air all day every day.  The
oozy red-winged black bird, the purty-purty-purtyof the
northern cardinal, and these days the pond is no longer
dominating metal gray, but somber soft shades, tones of movement.

3.21.2019
2.23 p.m.
49 degrees

Paragraph of starlings, grackles, cowbirds, red-winged blackbirds —
ogling them from her blind at the stream’s shore, Girl-Lilla Cat
notices every movement of every bird, and every bird screeches its
demand that she stay put, enjoy the water in the stream, and pay them no mind.

 

John L. Stanizzi is author of the collections – Ecstasy Among Ghosts, Sleepwalking, Dance Against the Wall, After the Bell, Hallelujah Time!, High Tide – Ebb Tide, Four Bits, and Chants.  His newest collection, Sundowning, will be out this year with Main Street Rag.  John’s poems have appeared in Prairie SchoonerAmerican Life in Poetry, The New York Quarterly, Paterson Literary Review, Blue Mountain Review, The Cortland Review, Rattle, Tar River Poetry, Rust & Moth, Connecticut River Review, Hawk & Handsaw, and many others.  His work has been translated into Italian and appeared in many journals in Italy.  His translator is Angela D’Ambra.  John has read and venues all over New England, including the Mystic Arts Café, the Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, Hartford Stage, and many others.  For many years, John coordinated the Fresh Voices Poetry Competition for Young Poets at Hill-Stead Museum, Farmington, CT.  He is also a teaching artist for the national recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud.  A former New England Poet of the Year, John teaches literature at Manchester Community College in Manchester, CT and he lives with his wife, Carol, in Coventry.

Perestroika – a poem by Jen Stewart Fueston

Perestroika

The amphitheatre smells of dank chlorine and tired
old Soviet bricks. Late autumn sun lilts down
on briny water churning in a dingy pool.

Dolphins lift off the water’s surface, curve gray bodies
through hoops, over arcs of spray, jump in time
to strains of Elvis or The Beach Boys Greatest Hits.

We laugh and clap along to music. Ira rolls her eyes and tells me
every year for fifteen now, this show remains the same.
And still, we are transfixed, open-mouthed,

by beleaguered creatures leaping up from concrete pools.
Nothing dims it. It’s a cool September Sunday,
on the far side of an old map’s iron borders,

trainers pose on backs of dolphins, and I imagine
New Jerusalem, new heavens and new earth.
All those lions lying down with lambs.

 

Jen Stewart Fueston lives in Longmont, Colorado. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of journals, most recently Ruminate, Rock & Sling, and The St. Katherine Review. Her poems have twice been finalists for the McCabe poetry prize, and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Her first chapbook, “Visitations,” was published in 2015, and her second, “Latch,” will be released in early 2019. She has taught writing at the University of Colorado, Boulder, as well as internationally in Hungary, Turkey, and Lithuania.

There Was a Certain Darkness in Me & I Couldn’t Curse It Because … – a poem by Ariana D. Den Bleyker

There Was a Certain Darkness in Me & I Couldn’t Curse It Because It’s Where I Found Myself

—for Jenn

I stopped searching for God in the far reaches of the sky.
I’ve always said being whole is overrated;

it’s the holes which make us beautiful.
I am not fire, an erupting volcano—

I am the phoenix rising from the flames someone else lit.
The same fire you ran into to save me.

She said crying is overrated, & I dropped my head thinking
of nothing more than happiness—

Crying looks like this: numb & cool & slow-moving grayish-white
fingers reaching for molecules of air like fine drizzle in spring.

There is no more room to cry.
Nothing can replace the pain of a moment or memory.

Teach me humility.
Heal me.

Decorate my doubt with iris instead.
Lace my body for sparrows to nest my ribs, perch my bones.

Oh, how you loved me so, lead me down steps & opened a gate
to the smoke & smiled. Stay here, you said,

between the volcanoes remembering
everything I say. The fire is set, she said.

You need to stop looking for answers in your tears.
Walk into the fire. It will keep you alive.

 

Ariana D. Den Bleyker is a Pittsburgh native currently residing in New York’s Hudson Valley where she is a wife and mother of two. When she’s not writing, she’s spending time with her family and every once in a while sleeps. She is the author of three collections, nineteen chapbooks, three crime novellas, a novelette, and an experimental memoir. She hopes you’ll fall in love with her words.

eyeline / querencia – a poem by Henry Brown

eyeline / querencia

flying far over walls, caught in medias res
eyes bloodshot, wings
..gouged by the edge of a rooftop
windows below whine, turn
..opaque with envy
do the angels still come………………. here ……………loud-shouting the city?

on the table beside me, a cup full of coffee
look down, see the ripple;
………………………..are we still turning up?

the bones in his pocket crack saturday motion
he is pacing; in shy sighs he asks our attention

closer now, bone-crunching glimpses of movement
silica sand centers us, each toe extracts
…………………………………………………………………………………….grains
repent! sheer drop-off, senses serenade insincerely
pristine night, did he want this? will our angel
remind us?

change in direction now,
……………west wind to safety!
we were in the lobby
..of that
giant hotel
in chicago

Sitting face over face in
that kind of
……………stop-motion moment:

remember thou art dust; unto dust thou shalt return!

 

 

Henry Brown is a student and activist with the Democratic Socialists of America at Carleton College, where he is a junior-year Religion major/Spanish minor interested in Christian liberation theology. He is from Austin, Texas, where he is interning for Texas Impact, a progressive interfaith nonprofit. He has published poetry in Eleventh Transmission and his poetry will be featured in the upcoming issue of Bitchin’ Kitsch.

The Book of Sophia – a poem by Raymond P. Hammond

The Book of Sophia

1

when i was in high school
i sat in a pew at a church
in blue ridge, virginia
and asked for the gift of wisdom
i wanted to be immersed in the light
to be bathed in it like the colors
coming through the stained glass
illuminating dust particles in pinks
and purples and yellow golds
and heavenly blues

2

i had been baptized out of fear
at age seven and remember feeling
no different coming up for air
than I did upon the startling dunk
that threw me back and immersed
me in tepid water

3

in my early twenties
i studied in the basement
of that same church for a year
to earn a certificate from liberty
university but it was the same
stories, the same twists, the same plot
the same helplessness
the same blind faith
the same misguided self-righteousness
that the bible was literal and inerrant
the same superficial immersion
into the text and reading
4

i did not want to just read what the words said
i wanted to be immersed in the meaning
i wanted to sink right into the pages
of the bible and disappear into a true understanding
that i knew I could find beneath the pages
somewhere so deep that it only existed
between the india paper and the genuine leather binding
in the smell that wafted from the pages
every time i opened the book

5

when i was in high school
i had prayed for wisdom
ironically i would find it
in a spirituality of disbelief
that i found as i drowned
immersing myself in the space
that existed around the words

 

Raymond P. Hammond is the editor-in-chief of both The New York Quarterly
and NYQ Books. He holds an MA in English Literature from New York
University and is the author of Poetic Amusement, a book of literary
criticism. He lives in Beacon, NY with his wife, the poet Amanda J.
Bradley, and their dog Hank.

WOMAN (IN THE WOODS) – a poem by Laura Sweeney

WOMAN (IN THE WOODS)

–after Louise Bogan

 

Woman you have wild in you.
And providence.
Content in the humid coop of your heart
to nosh pico de gallo & sliced mozz on French baguette.

You see the turkey emerge from the green summer grass,
though you do not hear
running water
only the whir of batteried fans.

Instead of wait, you return to journey.
Instead of stiffen, you bend like the palm tree.
Instead of taking man as friend, you turn
self-benevolent.

You think of goats bleating in the field,
or of clean wood cleft by an axe.
Your love is eager, earnest.
You’ve brought yourself here to relax.

You hear in every door knock,
three at 6am, six at 3am,
rat-a-tat, rat-a-tat/rat-a-tat─
a welcome chant.

And when you cross the doorsill
take your life back.

 

Laura Sweeney facilitates Writers for Life in central Iowa.  She represented the Iowa Arts Council at the First International Teaching Artist Conference in Oslo, Norway.  Her recent poems appear in Appalachia, Hedge Apple, Pilgrimage, Potomac Review, Harpur Palate, Women’s Studies Quarterly, Ithacalit, and St. Katherine’s Review.  Her recent awards include a residency at Sundress Publication’s Firefly Farms, and a scholarship to attend the 2019 Sewanee Writers Conference.

Say the polygamists just understand – a poem by MEH

Say the polygamists just understand

Say the polygamists just understand
the spiritual is always public,
never private. that shared intimacy
is the truest picture of the divine.
you’re welcome to join, but attitudes must
change, your selfishness has to be silenced.
He’s not only yours. you’ll have your own time
with the Beloved, as will all the others.
but never complain the bed is too warm
or sweaty. you’ll grow accustomed seeing
the satisfaction left on their faces,
the blissful daze you thought was yours alone.
when you know your place you’ll learn the Adored
has stamina to so love the whole world.

~ MEH

 

MEH is Matthew E. Henry, a Pushcart nominated poet with works appearing or forthcoming in various publications including Amethyst Review, The Anglican Theological Review, The Other Journal, Poetry East, Relief Journal, Rock and Sling, Spiritus, andThe Windhover. MEH is an educator who received his MFA from Seattle Pacific University, yet continued to spend money he didn’t have pursuing a MA in theology and a PhD in education.