Dappled Things

February 28, 2014

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For . . .finches’ wings. . . .
— Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889
English Jesuit priest and poet

I’ve used this poem before, to introduce National Poetry Month in 2010. Two years before that, I wrote an apostrophe to Father Hopkins on the occasion of his birthday. Regarded by many as the greatest Victorian poet of religion, of nature, and of melancholy, he has been a favorite of mine since I discovered my name in one of his poems about nature and melancholy when I was a melancholy fourth-grader sneaking the poetry anthology onto her lap during long division drills.

Thus it is my great joy and privilege to announce that a magazine called Dappled Things is going to publish a piece of my fiction. You can read the announcement here: The J.F. Powers Prize for Fiction.

My story, “Scent of Spring,” is part of the novel I have been working on since 2012. The central character is Father Henry Belmont, an 83-year-old semi-retired Catholic priest who is just beginning what some people call “the long goodbye” of forgetfulness unto dementia. He is drawn on Henry J. Erhart. S.J., whose acquaintance I made while on an extended sojourn at the Jesuit Spiritual Center in Wernersville, Pennsylvania, in 2007, where he was living in retirement. He was beginning his own long goodbye then, eventually ending his days at Manresa Hall, a Jesuit nursing home in Philadelphia. As it happened, the very days that my manuscript was being discussed were the days that he lay dying there.

Because I had written about him in this blog by name, people searching for information for his obituary found the pieces I had written. Thus I had the great privilege to be able to attend his funeral. In “Easing the Sting,” I write about that event, and link to the other pieces I wrote about him. I also include a little from Father Henry Belmont’s first appearance in the novel whose working title is Fields of Gold.

The story that has been awarded honorable mention in The J.F. Powers Prize for Fiction competition takes the final moment of that excerpt, in which Father Henry enters the kitchen of the rectory and mistakes the priests’ new cook for his little sister, dead some fifty years, and renders it in his point of view. The reader follows this “all too human” priest as he comes to understand what is happening to him, and works with the new cook on a project to help him, and her, reclaim what can be salvaged of broken memories and lost hopes.

This is my first published fiction that will appear in a venue where I don’t know anyone, a venue that has not solicited my work for some anniversary or alumni anthology. I do not know when it will be published, nor if it will be available online as well as in print. But I thank Dappled Things and the judges for their confidence in my work.

The notification came at a time when I was faltering in my belief that I could write anything worth reading, let alone a whole novel. I was mired in new work about characters other than Father Henry Belmont. The news gave me a jolt, and I have gone back to work with so much juice and so much joy.

Thank you for reading, so much, so often.

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