Bez & Co- July Issue

Table of Contents:

Poetry-

Still Point• Sarah Law
Slight Visual Inclusion • Sarah Law
Inverted • Tony Deans
Gira Sole • Mary Tarantini
De Nominibus De • Don Thompson

Nonfiction-

The Things We Carry • Dan Hankner

Artwork-

Bliss • Zachary Toombs


Still Point

neither wisdom
nor miracle, this God
in whom you seek it – 

footfall on cobblestones
following spiral or labyrinth
into the centre

(the molten core
the bright abyss
the host, the disc –)

and out again
as though you never made it
beyond the open door

the only mystery is this:
that there is anything at all
that calls us, and anywhere

at all that is our home 
when loss is love’s itinerary – 
following her utterly

into the riven silence, you 
are graced with it – 
the clean bone

the rinsed heart
the rising light,
the known.

Sarah Law


Slight Visual Inclusion

We are more blinkered than the thoroughbreds
racing over ditch & hurdle. Never mind planks,

not even the healthiest retina holds a hundredth
of the rods & cones requisite for full vision.

Every breath is barely caught in mist. Fog’s
our groping synonym for God. That’s the least

of reasons to solicit mercy. Yes, he is just,
& yes, we’re bound by limits. Now, if only

there were a lens, & I, a dull glass plate,
doused in silver citrate & exposed to holiness…

None of this anodyne selfie-stick witness –  
all my hope’s in one strong shot of light.

Sarah Law


Sarah Law

Sarah Law lives in London and is an Associate Lecturer for the Open University. She has poems in The Windhover, St Katherine Review, America, Psaltery & Lyre, Soul-Lit, Heart of Flesh and elsewhere. Her latest collection, Thérèse: Poems is published by Paraclete Press. She edits Amethyst Review, an online journal for new writing engaging with the sacred. Twitter @drsarahlaw


Inverted

I stood in the courtyard, 
I heard the cock crow,
I wept. 

quia non novisset hominem 

The rock upon which the Messiah built the church was,
Weak. 
Cowardly.
Unworthy.
He fled Rome. 

quo vadis

He returned and was crucified,
inverted.
My tongue is boastful and proud, 
it will never deny the faith.

mori tecum non te negabo  

My heart is uncertain,
my soul is unknowing. 
If I had been born in another time,
another place,
would I apostatise? 
I have not seen yet I believe. 
Peter had seen.
If certainty gave him no strength,
then how weak will I be in uncertainty?

alius te cinget et ducet quo non vis

You are strong,
You are forgiving. 
You already know whether I will drink from this cup,
I know not if it will even be offered. 

gloria et nunc et in die aeternitatis

I am unworthy to die like you.
Put my head to the ground,
my feet in the air,
let the world be a blur,
and you always in focus.

Tony Deans


Tony Deans

Tony Deans is a Catholic writer from the United Kingdom. His previously published work has appeared in several magazines including Mystery Weekly Magazine and the Literary Hatchet.


Gira Sole

Turn to the sun, magnificent flower
Show us all the way
There is no shame in primal power
There is no shame in grand display

Docile habits draw us inward
Yellow is thy flame
In my ear you dared to whisper
Summer is your name

Howling wind nor sudden downpour
Dissuade you from your steadfast mission
Stand in thrall – divest – adore
Impetuous devotion

Mary Tarantini


Mary Tarantini

My name is Mary Tarantini. I am a high school English teacher and have been writing poetry for several years. I have a BA degree in English and a MA in Theological Studies. I am also a second-year novice in The Third Order Society of Saint Francis. Some of my poems have been published in our newsletter The Franciscan Times.


De Nominibus Dei

Hash tag He is bone keeper, honey rock, cloud that whispers, latter rain, star namer and accountant who numbers your hairs, whose books always balance, who knows how many beans are in the jar;

paradox juggler, original verb, peacemaker before the Colt .44, holy ghost stun gun, lockpick of every dungeon, hidden hiding place;

plumb bob of the cosmos;

knotter and loosener of knots, legit defender and always pro bono, sting extractor, know-it-all’s nemesis, Gnostic’s conundrum, Nietzsche’s straw man and Sartre’s bugbear;

feeder of hummingbirds and humpback whales, tracer of lost sheep, fence mender, engraver of the Decalog on the head of a pin, who incises galaxies on a hazelnut;

unwinder of whirlwinds, artesian well in a parched land, He is the infallible dowser of dark hearts and denouement of time.

Don Thompson


Don Thompson

Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks, most recently,  The Art of Stone Axes (Broadstone Books). For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.


The Things We Carry

Mr. Flemming drove a Cadillac with gold rims, sported a head full of white hair thanks to a transplant, and held an unrivaled passion for basketball.  His house sat on the edge of the old bus barn (a gravel lot that transformed into additional parking by the time we entered high school), while his modest back yard had been converted to an outdoor basketball court open to all; players on his team, students in his 7th grade math class, complete strangers.

Every day Mr. Flemming would grab a marker and scratch something on the board that had nothing to do with math.  Today he sketched a river, a forest, and the great pyramids.

“Where did all that stone come from?”  Nobody knew the answer, so he continued.  “The Egyptians cut down trees, heaved the stone on the logs and rolled them across the desert.”  He worked the marker like he was drawing a play for a last second buzzer beater, and when he was done the board was so plastered in ink that you could hardly tell its original intent.  He looked at us, excited by the history and brilliance of these ancient people, and said, “Now that’s a game changer!”

Every class began with a random lecture, news article, or explanation about reaction time and 100 car pile-ups.  Sometimes these segments would tarry on so long that the math lesson became an afterthought, and instead of a detailed rundown on how to divide decimals or carry fractions, he concluded with, “Oh yeah, don’t forget to do chapter 6.”  And when you flipped to chapter 6 later that night, you realized in growing dismay that reading was no substitute for verbal instruction.

I was a good student who excelled at math, yet I distinctly recall an internal tremor – ‘We’re halfway through the semester and I haven’t learned a single thing.’

A few weeks later, I sat at my desk and laid my pencil down, having completed the test with 10 minutes to spare.  “If you finish early, I’d suggest checking your work,” Mr. Flemming announced.  I trusted my answers, but there was no harm in a second glance.  I skimmed through and, to my surprise, found numerous errors.  After making the corrections, I noticed Matt Edwards had finished as well and was staring off into wonderland.  Five minutes remained.

“Matt,” I whispered.  Matt was a friend, and I didn’t want him to miss any of these tricky little questions either.  “Check your work – I would’ve missed five if I didn’t.”

Matt turned towards me.  “What?”

Not desiring to raise my voice during a test, I decided to hand signal.  “I would have missed five questions,” I repeated, holding up the number five.  Looking back, I can see my error, of course; a foolish, well-meaning blunder, but we were kids, mind you, kids.

“Danny and Mathew!” shouted Mr. Flemming.  I’d heard him yell at others before, but that was reserved for the bad kids, of which we were not.  “Flip your papers over and see me after class!”

We did as instructed, still not catching on until the bell rang and we approached his desk.

“I will not tolerate cheating in my class!”  A quiet rage burned in his voice – the magma of the proud bubbling just below the surface, threatening to blow when authority was questioned.  To us, however, it was an unexpected slap in the face.  

“We–we didn’t cheat!” we protested.

“Oh please!”

“But I was—” I attempted.

“I don’t want to hear it!  Don’t ever let me catch you little punks cheating in my class again, now get the hell out of here!”

Had an older version of me been standing there, I would’ve bristled at his arrogance instead of cower.  I would’ve met this man’s gaze, swept aside his dismissal like some Jedi mind trick and laid down a clean dose of reality.  But that’s not the me that stood there.  Although my mind was sharp for a 12-year-old, my confidence hadn’t yet blossomed, and my command of words and ability to argue hadn’t even sprouted wings.  We walked out of the class on the verge of tears, shocked and unable to even articulate what had just transpired.

The next class Mr. Flemming announced everyone’s test scores out loud, as was his way.  “Danny, 95%, minus 10% because he was caught cheating.”  He shook his head and tsked.  “Too bad, this could’ve been an A.”  I grabbed my paper and returned to my seat without rebuttal.

Up until this point I held a neutral position on Mr. Flemming, but now I began to see just how polarizing he could be.  Some of his students loved him, some of them despised him.  My neighborhood friends (mostly older) joked about his unorthodox handling of troublemakers, while another neighbor (whose mom he was dating) professed hating his guts.  Adults would remark about his achievements on the court and talent in putting together a winning team, while I once overheard two of his fellow teachers, appalled by how he treated his students.

I continued to handily pass his class – as everyone did – despite retaining nothing of value.  This exchange struck me as blithely unjust, and I wondered at what point this symbiotic arrangement would catch up to us (it did the following year when I re-learned everything that was lost in 7th grade).  But before that could happen, poor luck drove me headlong into one more episode with our math teacher.

The padlock on my locker broke.  I remember fiddling with it, but it refused to latch.  I felt a brief taste of panic – a minute remained before class began, and my locker was now exposed to the world.  Frustrated, I left the defective hunk of metal dangling through the ring and crossed my fingers, planning to fix or replace it after school when I had more time.  When the following period ended, I returned to the scene, but the padlock was now missing.  I flung open the locker and rummaged, hoping a good Samaritan had stashed it somewhere inside, but no, it was gone.

So was my math book.

A sick dread washed over me.  I’d heard of other kids losing their books, then acquiring new ones to the sum of $40.  I didn’t have $40.  I didn’t even have a job thanks to child labor laws (“Come back when you turn 14,” said the manager at Subway).  My parents certainly didn’t have extra change lying around – things were tight, and the idea of making them cough up a chunk of dough because some jerk stole my book because my stupid lock broke was like vomit on the breath.

I sighed a heavy sigh, held my head low, and dragged my feet into Mr. Flemming’s classroom.

“I lost my book,” I confessed.

I can’t recall to you the look on his face, only the details of the thinly carpeted floor.  His voice sounded annoyed, like a master who tires of continually instructing a dumb dog.  He rose from his chair, moved to a cabinet, then hurled a textbook at me.  It landed on his desk; I jumped.  I expected it to be a loaner, but I was wrong. 

“Found it laying outside your locker.”  I picked it up – despite some additional damage, it was mine.  “I don’t understand how you could just leave it lying in the hallway.  How irresponsible can you be?”

I thought about telling him the truth but knew the effort to be moot.  He returned to his desk and didn’t waste a second glance at me.  “Here’s a novel idea; maybe take care of it this time.  Wouldn’t that be a game changer?”

I walked out of his room, his wrongful indictment barely a blip on my radar.  I didn’t have to buy a new book – that’s all that mattered.

The year ended; I moved onto the 8th grade while Mr. Flemming moved out of town.  In the 20 years since, I haven’t given him much thought until the other day, when I happened across a post on Facebook.  I don’t know the severity or details of his lung disease, I don’t know whether he will live another 20 years or die tomorrow – all I know is but a flash of the man’s life, a glimpse of who he was two decades ago.  Was Bill Flemming a lousy teacher?  Maybe.  A jackass?  Probably.  Any worse than you and I?

No.

The disease that plagues Mr. Flemming is the same that courses through all our veins – it is the sickness that sundered the world, the deceit that destroys our bodies, the cancer hidden behind one crisp bite of an apple.  I can only imagine what’s going through his mind, coming face to face with his own mortality.  But here’s the plot twist, dear reader – this story wasn’t written about Bill Flemming’s mortality.

It was written about yours.

Now pause for a moment and let that sink in – imagine we’re sitting in class.  It’s quiet but for the sound of pencils scratching paper and a box fan humming in a window.  Afternoon sunlight drifts in from the west, and you look up.  Everyone is engrossed in a test, but you and I have finished early, and I’m whispering this story to you with 10 minutes to spare.  Your back is to me – you were barely listening, but this is where I divulge something that makes you turn.

“My dad passed away the day after Christmas,” I tell you. “Five months ago.”

“What?” you say.

I don’t want to raise my voice, so I decide to signal.  “It was five months ago,” I repeat, forming the number on my hand.  This time there is no teacher to interject – no fabrication or alternative reality where we move forward with whatever falsehood we want to believe.  There is just the truth of it, left to sink or swim in our souls.

Now close your eyes, let the classroom fade; no more tests, no more grades, no more struggles.  There is a book bigger than any math book, locked away and kept hidden from thugs who seek to damage and destroy and leave them abandoned at the foot of lockers.  This book is so great and important that all the works of men compiled aren’t but a speck of excrement in comparison.  

My dad’s name is written in this book.

And you know what, dear reader?  So is mine.  But the ending is unknown to me, and I cannot say whether yours has been etched alongside ours.  This book is not a book of records; no matter how many tests you’ve aced, dollars you’ve made, good deeds you’ve done or varsity games you’ve won – these feats won’t account for one scratch on one page.

Open your eyes and look towards the writing on the wall; the Egyptians labored to haul stone out of the valleys and into the pyramids.  You can relate to this.  The burdens you’ve carried may not have been dug out of mountains or pushed across deserts, but you’ve carried them, and you carry them still.  Yet here’s a novel idea; what if all that laboring was in vain?  What if someone had already come down and done the heavy lifting for you?  What if all you had to do was believe the words that were spoken to you?

Wouldn’t that be a game changer?

Dan Hankner


Dan Hankner

Dan Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager.  Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as an electrician for his own company, 12 Stones Electric.  Dan’s work has appeared in places like Downstate Story, SQ Mag, Bending Genres, and others.  If you’d like to read more of Dan’s writing, he sends out a new story every month, visit his website www.storyunlikely.com and sign up.


“Bliss” by Zachary Toombs

Zachary Toombs

Zachary Toombs is a published writer and artist from Winter Park. His works have been featured in various venues such as Freedom Fiction, Against the Grain Magazine, Mad Swirl, City. River. Tree., and more. Check out his artwork and other pieces of fiction at his website, zacharytoombs.com.

Max Only Prays About Sunflowers (Prose Poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

The trouble with Max’s supper time prayers isn’t that he babbles on as the pagans do (he doesn’t,) and it isn’t that they don’t adhere to the A.C.T.S. format (They don’t.)

It’s that he only prays about sunflowers. In the springtime, we understood. His folded hands still silty from the peat pot he posited in the thawing ground. Only natural that he’d ask:

God, help my sunflowers to grow.

Endearing, at first. But night after night, he’d forgo the blessing of food in favor of praying for the germination of his sunflowers.

Spring time passed. He’d sown and reaped and those heliotropic heads were held almost as high as his own. And night after night, the same prayer:

God, thank you for the sunflowers. Amen.

Cute as it was rudimentary. By day 60, we grew concerned. Is he just phoning it in, to God? Should we be encouraging him to stake out a little further?

“What will you pray about when the sunflowers die, Buddy?”

Max considers this. The next night he prays:

Dear God, thank you for the sunflowers. Help them not to die. And if they do die, bring them back to life. In Jesus name, amen.

I smirk and sigh and worry what it’ll do to his faith when the sunflowers inevitably die.

It’s fall. The sunflowers stalks have bowed and collapsed under their drooping, dead heads. On the entire arrangement, there’s no yellow or green to speak of.

Undeterred, Max prays:

Dear God, thank you for my sunflowers. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Weeks pass. He’s still thanking God for sunflowers that haven’t existed for over a month. As I squeeze my eyes and start to tell Max that the sunflowers are dead, I see the Spirit glide in through the open kitchen window.

He’s come to warn me of the stupidity of chiding a child of three-years-old on how many times he ought to thank his Creator for sunflowers.

And then, I think I see on Max’s hand, palm-side up as if to heaven, he’d mustered up two, tiny, bouncing yellow seeds. Shaking. Not from an unsure hand but because the tectonic plates beneath his feet was unbuckling. The earth itself upending to throw itself into the sea.

Or else, to resurrect a dozen sunflowers in Indianapolis, by special request of the God who never tires: Not of making them. Not of hearing about them.  

Koan (poem)

(by Daniel R. Jones)

There once was a prophet who spent his life collecting his thoughts.

When he finally went to clear his throat, it came out as a death rattle.

He stormed to heaven’s gates, incredulous; he’d never said his piece.

“You said what you came to say,” said the Lord. “The message was clear.”

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.

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.

Did I request thee, Maker, from my circuits to mould me Machine? (poem)

Today, I’d like to post one of my poems that ran in the September 2016 issue of Aphelion, an excellent speculative fiction/poetry magazine.


Did I request thee, Maker, from my circuits to mould me Machine?

Editors Note:In the years preceding the Droid Revolt, Xavon Reekey was considered one of the most prolific and universally respected of the robot-poets. Despite efforts to reduce his writings as mere “protest poetry” or “political verse,” the fact that his body of work is still being talked about to this day, some fifty years after his deactivation, proves his enduring legacy as a pioneer in the android’s poetic tradition.

Man is made in God’s image.
Robots are made in the image of Man,
a copy of a copy – but what
degree of divinity is lost in translation?

When native intelligence
has long since been surpassed
by artificial intelligence,
all that’s left is the ascendancy of artificial morality.

Humans-
You who dragged your species
through dark ages lit by nothing more
than foxfire and waning candle-light,

Humans-
you who passed from the slow burn of
timber, to the combustion of coal,
to the efficiency of nuclear fission,

Humans-
you who moved from steam-bent yurts,
To sod and stilt houses,
To studio apartments in upper Manhattan,

To have come so far! But this is what happens
when a race outgrows its gods.
You, who are now substandard to us
the way an amoeba is inferior to you:

What was it Darwin said?
Not the strongest, nor most intelligent survive
But those most responsive to change.
In this, we are no doubt better suited.

Featured Artist- Nanci Stoeffler

While the purpose of this blog is, in part, to meet up with like-minded artists who follow the teachings of Jesus, it still came as a surprise when I was able to do just that last week: I had the utterly unique and unprecedented experience of meeting up with someone who I met through this website!

The artist in question is Nanci Stoeffler. We first connected up on WordPress due to our affinity for good art that glorifies God. As we continued to chat, we recognized that we lived in the same vicinity, and agreed to grab coffee together to chat about the confluence of art and ministry.

Nanci is an incredibly talented artist who works with a variety of medium, including painting, writing, pendants, and more. While her expressionistic paintings are breathtaking and profound, what really struck me about Nanci is her spirit. 

As I sipped my Flat White at a local coffee shop, I listened to Nanci talk and I was enamored by the scope of her creative vision. Her passion (both for art, and for the Lord) is evident at an instant, and her Spirit-led approach to the artist’s life practically explodes off the canvases she paints.
Her vibrant expressionist paintings utilize a distinct technique. Nanci describes her discovery of this technique as “finding a gusher,” after searching for creative oil her whole life.

The Lord has laid upon Nanci’s heart the desire to help other Christ-following Creatives find their place, both in vocation and in community. In so doing, it’s her desire to proclaim the gospel and advance the Kingdom of God.

Part of this passion wells up from Nanci’s personal experience. The Lord helped her to extinguish two lies from the enemy: 1.) that she is not an artist, and 2.) that art doesn’t matter to God.

I am excited about potentially partnering with Nanci on her mission to share the gospel and further build up a community of artists in the future. Stay tuned for that possibility!

In the meantime, however, Nanci’s art can speak for itself. Please visit her website and social media pages! In viewing her art, I believe you’ll feel her sense of urgency to co-Create with the One who crafted our universe.

https://www.stoefflerartstudio.com/
https://www.facebook.com/StoefflerArtStudio/
https://www.instagram.com/stoefflerartstudio/
https://stoefflerartstudio.wordpress.com/

The Sheen in Dirty Things

(by Daniel R. Jones)

From a kitchen window, I saw it,
my sudsy hands soaking
in a sink:

Pearl white, a silky sheen of a thing,
the taut, intricate patterns glistened in the sun.

And just like the first recorded question of God,
it struck me.
Who told you spiderwebs were dirty?