2014 - Board Writing Marathon - Benedictine Retreat Center

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Saint Benedictine Retreat Center 2014

Writing Marathon

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Board members met for a two – day retreat at the Saint Benedictine Retreat Center near Schuyler, Nebraska. The annual writing marathon launched Tuesday morning before beginning the major work items for the year. Groups of writers ventured out into the monastery, Schuyler, and surrounding areas. What follows is some of their stories.

What a Better Place to Die By Danielle Helzner

Birkenstock clad feet behind her. As I watched her, I wondered what each bead, each prayer meant to her.

“Hail Mary full of grace…” the monotone mutterings spread through St Anthony’s Catholic Church and sounded like a hundred bees buzzing near my ear. As a kid, I knelt obediently sandwiched between my parents and grandparents my head not quite high enough to rest my chin on the pew, my nose pressed against the wood smelling a thousand sweaty hands and ten coats of veneer, just my eyes looks looked over the thick, rounded front of the pew. The repetition of the rosary and the buzz of the

My grandmother devoutly attended church. In addition to Sundays, she went each day for her Holy Hour of Adoration. If there was a nearby grotto or monastery or convent, she’d stop, sign each visitor book, by a postcard, and was always sure to say a prayer before leaving. She traveled to Israel during the height of the IsraeliPalestinian tensions in the early 90s despite the pleadings of her kids to stay home. “What better place would there be to die than in the Holy Land?” she’d quip.

words mesmerized me. I kneeled, staring at my grandma’s bony fingers rubbing each bead, softly, thoughtfully. Her eyes, slits, barely open, fixed on the crucifix at the front of the church. Gingerly kneeling on weak knees, shifting her weight occasionally to offer a knee respite, her Occasionally to offer a knee respite, her


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Issue #, Date On the Green Metal Bridge Overlooking a Small Still Lake

Used spider web for sale-Lake front property--prefurnished with various bug wings and exoskeletons still holding firm even on windy days-original concentric symmetry mostly in tact. Lots of friendly neighbors great location. By Jeff Grinvalds

Carving By Daniel Boster There is the hope of lovers’ initials closed by a heart, carved into a tree. Today I want A and J to be permanent. Perhaps both at work but thinking of one another. Or maybe at the store arguing, but gently, about what brand of paper towels is the best. They could be out for a walk after Arthur’s open heart surgery. Joan wondering how she’d be rooted without him. 2

Or Arthur could be alone, fishing in that same park, the branches spreading behind him, Joan’s laugh soft in his memory.

Defining Shades of Beige By Diana Weis Carving Four-foot light posts bookend the steps on each side of the Schuylar courthouse. Beveled iron columns with a white sand blasted globe on top. Perhaps there to symbolically pedestal the world but nothing is etched into them but stuck grains of dirt positioned by the hard elements that positioned them there. They mirror the aged tone in the brick mortar behind, setting off the beigeness of the building pulling from it some definitions of life. Most of the buildings here are various shades of beige, a color so easy for me to

see after looking at 2,000 shades of it in carpet. The value of the variety I do not get or even care to know. What I do understand is the delicate balance of finding the correct one and the importance of adding color to the landscape. Here, a well-trimmed and plotted garden plays that verse. Plantings structured and designed, tall to short, color to greens patterned strategically with enough difference in likeness to be striking and methodical as it outlines the base of the courthouse defining it in the way a child black-line outlines their drawing to give it distinction.


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Tickling the Ivories By Beverly Hoistad One of my first memories of truly thinking about my teeth was a visit to the dentist and orthodontist. Evidently, my front teeth were crooked enough that I needed to take a wooden tongue depressor and press under them while watching Lassie and Walt Disney on Sunday nights (and probably other nights, too, those are just the ones I remember). My “golden years” are ages 7-12, when my sister Bonnie gets tons of cavities and I still have none. My mother sends me in so my sister can squeeze and dig her nails into my hand while she’s getting cavities filled. Pure torture. These are in the rinse and spit days, I can see blood and spit circling the bowl, and Dr. Mitchell is good at his job. (This abuse went on for years.) It’s probably why I can’t bear to watch Criminal Minds style shows today. I actually didn’t have a cavity until I was a “braces” sixteen and the doctor told me I had an abscess and would need a root canal. I was afraid of needles so it was done without Novocain. They thought the tooth behind it might be dead, too. It wasn’t. More torture. Braces come off and I get a rubber guard to wear at night to keep things in place. Torture. My mom always jokes about me taking care of my face; a lot of money is invested there. The braces come off at Christmas, I get contacts (hard permeable ones

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that made my eyes stream in pain). Acquaintances at school think there’s a new student in class and they introduce themselves. Each time we move, I need to find a new dentist, Dr. Mitchell is way out on Dixie Highway, we switch over from him, the next one retires, we make two moves, Dr. Unthank and Dr. Hoefs retire. Dr. Hoefs sells the biz to Dr. Smith. After cleaning, I am of course, reclining in the chair with the little spot-bespeckled bib and Dr. Smith comes in to check teeth and make his first contact with me. He’s got lots of white hair and I’ve heard he’s a retiree that is investing money and then selling dental practices. “Who did your braces?” he asks. “Why, did they do a bad job? I’m sure he’s retired or dead now, it was Dr. Segal, but it was really his assistant who did it, mostly I saw him. It was in Kentucky,” I add. “Your teeth match beautifully together. Whoever did your orthodontics did a great job.” “Well, thanks,” I say, “My parents will love knowing their money was well spent.” “They’re still alive?” “Yes.” “How old are you?” And the torture continues.

Allergies, a Poem and a Sneeze By Jan Knispel Allergies, Allergies, a Paul Simon sang On his album, Hearts and Bones, Which most music fans ignored, Maybe they were allergic.

Allergies, Allergies, I am allergic To Xray dye; I almost died, Had a head the size of a pumpkin And lymph nodes the size of softballs, And lungs that felt the size of walnuts Until the medicine kicked in. I lived. Allergies, Allergies, allergies to pine pollen Makes my sinuses swell and my brain Slow down to pulse like a morning star. Not a good scenario for a girl who lived in The Black Hills of South Dakota for her first Twentytwo years of her life. Allergies, Allergies, allergic to fragrances, I can’t walk the detergent aisle without Sneezing, wheezing, sneezing. Allergies, Allergies, I’m allergic to penicillin, Sulfa, statins, mold, metals, pollen. Allergies, Allergies, I am allergic to myself—The oil on my hair makes my skin break out— So my shampoo is extra heavy duty, super duper striper Like turpentine. Allergies, Allergies Allergies, Allergies I need no more ALLERGIES! I’d like to be ALLERGIC TO MY ALLERGIES!

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Agnes By Jenny Bruck The small child stirred atop the makeshift bed in the corner of the kitchen. Although the indian summer heat had two days ago given way to the fresh, crisp bite of fall, the child’s hair was matted to her smooth forehead with sweat. Her mother paused at her task and waited for what would come next; a groan of pain, a whimpering cry, or, perhaps, nothing at all. To hope that the child would stir, wake, and fall back into the rhythms of the living was no longer a possibility- the doctor had said as much yesterday evening. These thoughts flashed through Matka’s mind in an instant as she watched her child, vaguely aware of the pops coming from the stove behind her. Agnes stirred briefly once more, then settled back into the deep slumber of one who is waiting, ready to move on. Her

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Issue #, Date mother turned back to the stove, picked up the jar grabber, and began to lift the freshly sealed jars from the pot of boiling water on the stove. She carefully lined hot, steaming jars of green beans next to the apples she had finished earlier in the morning. Seeing the two together brought a small, sad smile to her lips. Agnes loved apples, but she hated green beans. Matka thought back to the springAgnes had just turned five, and was so excited to help with the planting of the garden. She had looked so serious, been so intent as she studied her mother and older sister, and then bent to copy their actions, pushing the seeds gently yet firmly into the ground. Oh, how disappointed she had been to see that the small seeds she had planted had turned out to byline be green beans. DolorMatka’s Sit Amet gaze shifted from the glistening jars of green beans to the apples. The small orchard in the northeast corner of the farm was just as good a place as any to look for Agnes if she needed to be found. Actually, it was in that very orchard where, four days ago, Agnes had initially fallen ill. At first, Matka and Nas assumed the heat of the indian summer had gotten to her. Matka remembered instructing her older daughter Mary to take Agnes back to the house as she and Nas continued to harvest the apples. Fall is a busy time for a farm, and harvest waits for no one. However, once Matka returned to the house, she immediately saw that something was really wrong. Agnes, who was usually even tempered and good natured even when sick, was lying on her bed, holding her head and crying. When Matka felt her head, the hot, dry heat radiating from her child caused her to momentarily

pull her hand away. The second day, Agnes was no longer waking, no longer drinking. The doctor was called to the farmhouse. However, by the time night had fallen, Dr. Knapp still had not come. The Zoubek family, who farmed 140 acres four miles to the north of Nas and Matka’s farm, had had an accident. When Dr. Knapp finally showed up, the toll the day had taken on him was evident, and it didn’t take words for him to tell Nas and Matka that the accident had been fatal, and Joseph and Katerina were mourning the loss of their fourteen-year-old son. As Dr. Knapp examined Agnes, Matka was thinking of poor Katerina Zoubek. The thought of losing a child was impossible to fathom. Certainly, the facts could be stated, yet actually coming to terms with what it meant to have a child taken from you was something Matka could not process. She was turning all of this over in her mind so intently that she first did not register what she was looking at as the doctor moved from examining Agnes’ head to her torso. As he pulled Agnes’ shirt back from the collarbone, the flat red blooms across her chest were visible even from across the room lit only by a single light. It wasn’t until Matka met the doctor’s eyes and saw the pain there that she understood. “How long have these been here?” the doctor asked. Not long. Matka had been by Agnes’ side for all of the day and most of the evening, trying to keep her comfortable, changing her sweat-soaked clothing and bedding, wetting her lips, talking to her. Agnes’ makeshift bed had become one more stop in Matka’s


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Lorem Ipsum Dolor harvest kitchen rotation; as she went from stove to sink to table to cellar, she would linger by the bed long enough to tuck a lock of her hair behind her ear or readjust her bedding. It didn’t matter. The blotches could mean only one thing: typhoid. There wasn’t much that could be done. It would take two days for the medication to arrive from Omaha, and, while they would send for it, there was little hope that it could do anything at that point. After Dr. Knapp left that night, Nas and Matka stood in the kitchen, making eye contact with one another but not speaking. Nas pulled Matka to him and held her with the weight of sorrow that only complete and utter helplessness could bring. Eventually, he silently released her from his embrace, walked out into the night, and grieved the only way he knew how. Matka had not left the kitchen since. At some point in the silence of the sleeping house, she sat down on one of the wooden kitchen chairs that had been pulled up to the bed and allowed herself to slip into the awareness of what was going on. She closed her eyes, tipped her head back and allowed the tears to slip silently down the sides of her face as she slowly kneaded her cotton apron between her hands. How could life possibly progress past this dark, dark night? It was in this silent despair that her weary mind gave way to sleep, her restless hands mimicking her restless mind as they continued to work the fabric of her apron through the night. As she finished pulling the hot jars of green beans from the boiling water, she turned once again to Agnes’ small body on the

Issue #, Date cot. The medication could arrive today, Matka thought as she automatically went to her daughter. The hopeful words were betrayed by the knowledge that, at this point, it would do little good. Any moisture they had been able to get into Anges instantly came back out of her pores, and she hadn’t eaten since breakfast on the day she had fallen ill. She looked weak, frail, and bore little resemblance to the spirited girl she had always been. Nevertheless, as Matka crossed to her, she picked up the bowl containing water and a rag, and carefully wiped Agnes’ face, concentrating the cool water on her lips, willing her to drink it in. As she did so, she began to quietly sing a Polish tune she and Agnes would sing while they were working. The tune fell from her lips and evaporated into the past as she left her daughter’s side and went back to the stove. The time for songs was over. What would fill the rest of her life once her child was gone? How does a mother survive when her reason for being has been taken from her? She felt a tearing within herself. Until now, the daily duties of a busy farm, her responsibilities to her husband and eldest daughter, the sheer Nebraskan

fortitude within her; these things had kept her going. These things were losing their grip. The water in the pot had come to a rolling boil once again, and with the metal jar grabbers, Matka began to lower more jars of green beans down into the water. As the last jar was placed into its spot and sank below the bubbling surface of the water, the utter emptiness inside her chest began to fill as if she were being poured full of the boiling water on the stove. The pain, the hurt she had been refusing to acknowledge for the past four days was welling up inside her so quickly she did not have the time to busy it away, to put it off for another time. She turned away from the stove and turned toward her dying child, toward the unfairness life had dealt her. In that moment, she ceased to be in her harvest kitchen. Instead, she allowed her grief to swallow her whole, to crash upon her from all sides, to fully encompass her in a way she could not control. And there she stood, facing a darkness that had no end. Living a pain that could not be endured. She stood there in the middle of her own roaring sorrow, completely oblivious to the popping on the stove behind her.

Join us on our next writing mara thon!

Annual Platte River State Writing Retreat September 12- 14, 2014

Platte River State Writing Marathon September 13, 2014; 12:00pm at Owen Landing More information at http://unl.edu/newp 5


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