Transience of Images (poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Never mind
the Winter Solstice
passed and it’s no
longer Fall.

In the corner
of my three-season porch
Autumn’s last leaves
hang, entwined in a spider’s web.

Sienna- umber- ochre-
colored leaves
frozen
in mid-air,

like Autumn itself
in suspended
animation.

Help me, reader.
There’s a poem in there, somewhere,
but I haven’t quite worked it out.

Come Spring-cleaning,
stiff bristles will brush
the cobwebs from the walls.

I pass the arrangement
each morning
as I zip
up my coat.

Help me, reader.

Before I swish the display
out the screen door,
ephemera freed
from my mind.

Could you lend me
some meaning?
Meet me midway,
won’t you?

Whitesnake and Carhartt’s

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Poets have a tendency to play hard to get, in the literary sense. They speak in riddles, only to gripe about dense readers who misunderstand them. Or worse yet, they tire of explaining the very lines they themselves constructed. There’s really no placating them.

I was working on deciphering just such a poet’s verse when Jack interrupted my thoughts by abruptly turning the stereo dial full-blast.

“It’s Whitesnake!” he said, elated.

The rest of the van was asleep on our long commute home after a particularly long graveyard-shift. I nodded, absently, unversed in ’80s glam rock.

“I used to have this CD I burned, and all 15 cuts were ‘Here I Go Again’ by Whitesnake,” he continued, with no loss of enthusiasm. “Every time I got fired, or had a girlfriend dump me, I’d just jump in my car and pop that sucker in the stereo. I’d drive for hours like that if I had to. By the end of the drive, all the bad stuff was behind me, and I had a new start. This song was the rebirth. It’s like…the Phoenix rising.”

He bellowed out the lines he remembered and hummed through the rest.

It was no secret that Jack was going through some personal struggles. His girlfriend, who was 8-months pregnant, had just left him. He was trying for the life of him to finally get clean; all while staring down the barrel of what looked to be a vicious custody battle for his first son.

Still, Jack sat, contented, drumming on the steering wheel, singing off-key.

And there, on I-94, just as the sun rose, I saw it. Out of grease-covered, musty Carhartt’s, Jack was being reborn. And a big old, campy Phoenix was rising.

Why I write (Creative Nonfiction)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Every human is born with a mind-palace.

Well-kept, clean-swept, fastidiously organized. When it comes time to retrieve an idea, they walk through hallways of doors, each arranged in some methodical alpha-numeric sequence. Upon reaching the right room, they scan metal cabinets, open the drawer they need, thumb through the file-folders until they find the words they wish to write. In this way, they always have the right words to say.

When I was born, the doctors stood in semi-circle, confused by the CT scan that hung on the wall. Where my mind palace should’ve been, there was nothing to see.

Mine had sunk to somewhere deeper in the brain; somewhere less stable- the amygdala.

And what should’ve been a palace was instead a thicket of trees.

So, when I’m tasked with finding the words to say, I take to the trees without so much as a map to guide me. I amble around through thistles and brambles, looking for a sugar maple that I can tap.

The words don’t come gushing forth all at once. Rather, it’s a drip, drip, drip, slow as…well, molasses, as the thoughts freeze and thaw. It is not at all consistent.

After some four, maybe five months, my pail is filled.

I hack down the selfsame sap-producing maples and feed them to the fire, boiling buckets of sap over the open flame.

This converts thought-sap to syrup at a ratio of 40 gallons to 1.

After the foraging through the thorns and the cuts on my arms and the rips through my sleeves;

after the poison oak spreads and there’s a hitch in my step from the long hike and axe-wielding;

after the woods around me have been reduced to smoldering embers just to produce this:

I hold in my hands, my sticky, resin-stained hands, a piece of conscious concentrate: something that can be so essentially saccharine and sappy that it ceases to be so.

Bearing little semblance to sap, it becomes something else altogether.

Then, having drunk deep of this syrup, I pick up spade and seedling, knowing the next batch won’t be ready for another 50 years.

I write because words are the labor, and the reward.
because in the Scriptures, God Himself identifies as “the Word.”
Because words are both the mystery and the revelation.

J.R.R. Tolkien vs. Flannery O’Connor- Escapism in Fiction (Craft)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

Suppose you were to take out a notebook and a pen and list off the best Christ-following authors you could think of from the 20th Century. 
Chances are, the names “J.R.R. Tolkien” and “Flannery O’Connor” would both be listed on Page One.

But despite their larger-than-life status as novelists and forerunners of Christian thought, both authors had a decidedly different take on the creative life. Consider, for example, the following two quotations, which represent almost diametrically opposed truths about writing:

Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisoned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” -J.R.R. Tolkien


I’m always irritated by people who imply that writing fiction is an escape from reality. It is a plunge into reality and it’s very shocking to the system.” -Flannery O’Connor

So what gives? How is it that Tolkien advocates for escapism in writing and O’Connor denounces it? Which is correct, artistically speaking? Which is the right mindset, spiritually?

The answer, of course, is nuanced. 

Let’s start with the artistry aspect. It helps to look at the distinction in writing styles between Tolkien and O’Connor. It’s hard to imagine two writers so entirely unalike: Tolkien, the Oxford-educated, high-fantasy-obsessed polyglot, was famous for his epic and elaborate tomes. O’Connor, on the other hand, was Southern Gothic through and through, and her most famous works were short stories that explored the grisly reality of human nature.

Is at any wonder that their fiction reflected their views on craft? 

Since both writers contrast so drastically, it’s a more useful question to ask whether they succeeded in their particular aims. Luckily, the answer to this question is much easier to answer: it is a resounding yes. Both J.R.R. Tolkien and Flannery O’Connor have received much critical acclaim and popularity. Their works have stood the test of time, and serve as insightful literature that speaks to the human condition. Undoubtedly, both were–and are, successful. 

The two took drastically different artistic approaches, but both shared common themes: unexpected grace, (compare Tolkien’s concept of the “eucatastrophe” and the character “Bevel” in “The River,) the duality of humankind (consider Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings and Julian in “Everything That Rises Must Converge,”) redemption of a deeply flawed individual (think of “Boromir” and “Gollum” in The Lord of the Rings and “the Grandmother” and “the Misfit” in “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”)

These shared themes that run throughout the corpus of work these two literary heavyweights are not a happy accident. They can be traced back to the same source: they were both profoundly impacted by their love for Christ and their Catholic faith. So while they took two contradictory approaches to the creative life, the similarities that bound them were significant enough and elucidated well enough to make them both correct.

Perhaps a final quotation can best illustrate this point. C.S. Lewis, who famously disliked T.S. Eliot’s poetry, acknowledged that the two served the same God. As such, he said about Eliot: “I agree with him about matters of such moment that all literary questions are, in comparison, trivial.” 

May we all take such a mature view.

the wrenching of the HIp that Precedes the Blessing (poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

They all went black:
the fixed stars we use 
to navigate our broken lives. 

Now we’re cutting 
our way through the fog,
ambling away from Bethlehem.

Well-aware the cosmic ledger—
light and dark, joy and sorrow
is far from balanced, this side of Elysian fields.

Fearful of what it all means;
there’s a part of your soul that’s nocturnal;
rouses, comes awake when it’s dark.

On the same night
the physicists proved, mathematically
man has no soul,

the mystics proved, artistically
man does have a soul.
I inquired of God: which is true?

I was answered 
by a torrent of silence,
and the silence argued

if a thousand years is like a day,
and a day, a thousand years,
a generation of silence from God

is just a lull in the conversation. 
The silence pained me
like the wrenching of the hip 

that precedes the blessing.
and with each surpassing revelation, 
He became more mysterious.

Why I left the mixer with tyson the mailroom clerk [flash-fiction]

(by Daniel R. Jones)

[Note: this piece was first published in issue no. 3 of the print journal “Black Rabbit.”]

…because I’d already unpaired from Jayce as soon as we were through the double-doors. 

Jayce knew I don’t like swanky cocktail parties, but he made me come under the guise of networking read: self-aggrandizement and he was soon in semi-circle with his associates, wagging that silver tongue I fell for two or so years back.

And there was Jayce, neck deep in an anecdote about a sales-call down south, lurching forward in his easy chair like a hunter waiting to pounce. He tells it like he’s letting them in on a secret, and the half-dozen or so are just eating it up, just waiting for him to be out with it. 

But this is the eighth iteration I’ve heard of this story, and sure, it gets more polished every time, his gestures wider, his modulation punchier, but there I was, white-knuckled during the pregnant pause, holding my breath, just gritting my teeth as he lets out the punchline: Make your mind up and mind your make up! 

And the circle is erupting in guffaws and women from each of the circles on the room’s periphery are turning to see what the commotion is about and men out of earshot are smirking like they were in on the joke, but they’re really just embarrassed they’d chosen the wrong company to keep and they wish they’d heard the line-heard-round-the-mixer for themselves.

But because I’m a lady, I closed my eyes before I rolled them. 

So, here comes Tyson, who I found out later was the mailroom clerk. Turns out, he wasn’t on “the list,” but he managed to slip in unannounced by wearing the same garb as the caterers: black slacks paired with a white button down, a black bow-tie, and shiny black oxford shoes. This actually makes me like him more, but anyhow he must’ve somehow seen the eye roll. 

He asks why I don’t find Jayce funny and I say, “He’s my boyfriend, and I’ve heard that one before.” 

And he wonders aloud “How can Adam be at ease with his rib wandering ‘round the room without him?” 

“You’re clever, but I’m just playing from the script,” I say. “At a cocktail party, a man’s worth is judged by the number of people he can greet when he walks in. A woman’s is — by the number of people she can ignore.”

Tyson had a laugh at that, and it felt good to know I’d made an impression. 

“But really, why aren’t you with him?” Tyson asked.

And I guess it was the whiskey sours, but soon I was railing on about how Jayce put on such a good act, and I fell for the character he plays, but a time comes when a woman wants to meet the man behind the mask, and come to find out there’s a mask behind the mask and he’s masks all the way down.

“He sounds like a headache I had last year,” Tyson said, with the perfect balance of empathy and apathy. 

I wondered, for a minute, if Jayce would question me for talking to Tyson. But even if he did manage to find the time to cast a glance my way, he’d figure I was just chatting with “the help. Then as if he read my mind-

“I like your dress.”

This surprised me, because it was just a mustard-colored off the shoulder maxi dress I picked up off the rack at Macy’s. But I was feeling flirty so I decided to test him.

“It’s not too suggestive?” I asked.

“It is.”

And just when I was ready to write him off, he said:

“It has to be suggestive. If it’s art then it has to be suggestive.

“Please,” I said. “Elaborate.”

I think everything in the physical world has to have an artistic analogue. There is no preference or taste or desire that isn’t a metaphor. So, all fashion is suggestive—whether of sensuality or a particular aesthetic. And I’d venture to guess nothing is so repulsive as a man whose idea of ‘fashion’ is a navy-blue button down and pleated khakis.” 

He nodded toward Jayce.

“I guess Jayce prefers function over fashion,” I shrugged.

“No, it’s worse than that. Loving a pair of carpenter jeans is functional. Utilitarianism, at least, is an ideal. Some people believe in that ideal. But having no connotation—believing in nothing—that’s unforgivable.”

“How does a guy as smart as you not get invited to this party?” I asked.

“I may be smart, but we can’t all be hotshot salesmen. Some of us just have to be regular Joes.”

Tyson stops to think before saying, “Sprezzatura.”

Which of course, I’m unfamiliar with, so he explains:

“Sprezzatura is an old Italian word that means ‘a practiced, rehearsed nonchalance.’”

And that’s the moment I realized that’s Jayce to the “t,” and with Tyson having cut so clearly to the heart of the matter, he was in my good graces, which is why, when he suggested we leave the party, I wasn’t indisposed. But I wanted to be sure, so I asked what he meant. I was trying not to hear more than I heard. I’m a kept woman, after all.

And he said, “Self-imposed naivete is a poor stand in for innocence.”

And it just sounded so clever; he seemed like the kind of guy that Jayce should’ve been; and speaking of Jayce, I don’t even think he noticed when I left, but Tyson was so kind and his hair was so dark and his eyes were so light and I know it’s not the first time it’s happened and I should be sorry but there comes a time when it just no longer makes sense to say “This isn’t me.”

Don’t phone it in

Students of history may be familiar with the famous (or perhaps, infamous) perfectionism of Henry Kissinger, Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under the Nixon and Ford administrations. Politics aside, there is an illustrative story of his uncompromising standards during the late sixties:

Winston Lord, the Ambassador to China at the time, was tasked with writing a speech for Kissinger. Kissinger, a gifted speechwriter himself, had exacting standards for those who served under him.

The story is told that Winston Lord brought the first draft of the speech to Kissinger one evening for his feedback and approval. The next morning, Kissinger called him back and asked, “Is this the best you can do?”

Lord thought it over. He thought he’d done his best. He answered, “I’ll try again.”

A second time, he tinkered with his speech and brought it back to him after a few days had passed. And again, Kissinger asked him, “Is this the best you can do?”

Lord was shaken up, but stated he could do better.

The process continued for eight drafts. Each time, Kissinger resolutely asked, “Is this the best you can do?” After the ninth draft, Lord finally responded, indignantly, “I know it’s the best I can do! Not a word can be improved upon!”

Henry Kissinger looked on Winston Lord and replied, “In that case, now I’ll read it.”


Maybe this story made you smile. Or maybe it made you cringe at the unrelenting perfectionism showed by Kissinger. In any event, I believe there’s a takeaway for each of us, as artists, from this anecdote.

They say that artists are perfectionists by nature. I didn’t get that gene.

The first time I read this story, I felt a sort of conviction related to my writing. True, I’m not delivering important, policy-shaping speeches to heads of state…but how often do I just “phone it in” when I’m working on a new piece of writing? If I’m being honest with myself, it happens more often than I’d like.

Steven Pressfield makes a great case for rugged self-discipline when it comes to writing in his book The War of Art. If you’re struggling with writer’s block, I highly recommend it to start winning “your inner creative battles,” as he puts it.

That book (and this post) is not for everyone. Some writers edit and revise their pieces to ribbons. Some artists trash their seventeenth version of a painting before tearing their hair out. But if you’re like me and you sometimes struggle to “give it your all,” I hope this blogpost acts as the kick in the pants that you need.

Melancholic Magician (prose poem)

There once was a man with melancholy. A magician, in fact. A failed magician, in many respects, but a magician, nonetheless.

This sad magician sat, every day, with quill in hand at a writing desk, every day convinced that if he were to write down the perfect words, set in the exact order, it’d create a sort of magic rune which could cure him of the chronic anhedonia which plagued him.

At times, he got close. The incantation he set to paper was maybe a word off, when he read it aloud. So he’d tinker with the syntax and diction for a couple weeks, swapping the order of a couple words here; substituting a synonym there.

And those near misses sustained him, staving away his melancholy for a little while.

But because the respite was short-lived, he threw out the would-be healing spells and started fresh, hoping to one day cure his ailment.

On certain days, he’d leave his writing desk, exploring the world outside the four-walls of his study. 

For what if the incantation involved words I haven’t yet learned? he wondered. Signifiers for objects I may not yet know exist?

And the magician aged and his hidebound journals piled up, in the pursuit of the perfect words, set in perfect order.

And you’ve probably guessed, Dear Reader, that this magician is most every poet; that the magician is the writer scrawling on the other end of the page you’re now reading.

This poem, or whatever you call it, is, itself, an attempt at that magic rune.