Confessions of a Tattooed Mennonite

Hello, everyone. This blog does the body/soul good! For the past few years, I’ve been addicted to “confessional” forms of literature. As a poet, I just can’t stay away from bringing skeletons out of the closet or mucking through some pretty big issues in my own work. The other young women in my grad workshop don’t see what the big deal is…What I’m finding is that even though my home community was supposedly “progressive” in many ways, I grew up thinking my voice was somehow inferior. I know others will relate to balking at any form of confrontation, too. Well, today I am noticing a silence in our (mostly rural?) “anabaptist” congregations towards issues that once gave us our name and purpose, and as a young woman I want to speak out “firmly but gently.” Poetically, if you will. To hold us accountable, to remind us of a God much bigger than any red, blue, or purple state and what our neighbors think of us. I’m beginning to publish inside the “Menno Realm,” something that’s frightening for me b/c of its obvious audience. But (I think) I’m ready. Grandma, Grandpa, prepare thy ears!

Comments (3)

  1. TimN

    Welcome to YAR, Becca! Will we have the privilege of having some of your poetry posted here? The themes your talking about sounds like ones that a lot of us could connect with. Also, can you describe more what you mean by “confessional” literature? Can you give some examples?

  2. BeccaJayne

    Hi, Tim–thanks for the reply. “Confessional” lit. is anything that brings deep personal emotions or stories to the surface (if you’ve ever heard of Sharon Olds, she is the perfect example. A lot of Julia Kasdorf is also confessional). It’s kind of a “dirty word” in the poetry realm nowadays–it’s much cooler to be a post-confessionalist, where perhaps an “I” never makes it into a poem. This is what I’ve experienced at grad school thus far, anyway. I also find it interesting (and I’ve talked to Lora about this one!:) how in many institutions of higher learning outside of “church schools,” it seems the underlying message is that one can’t be spiritual and intellectual at the same tme. I tend to ignore this bias in the work that I present! You asked for some poems. I’m working on a book centered around my parents’ experiences with MNN in Liberia from ’04-’06. Here’s a couple examples of my stuff, though the lines don’t really line up as they should! Oh, well–(notice the “stolen” story from the Extending the Table cookbook at the end of the 1st. It’s the only thing I’ve ever read that puts into print so perfectly the feeling of experiencing something you could never explain to someone who was not there. The only difference in Liberia is that often times a child wll be chosen to pose as an orphan for Western adoption…)


    Again and again the hand (gold-banded) dips into perfectly
    salted fries. The other grasps vanilla shake like it’s all that is
    left in the world. This happy meal, this reunion with sweet
    catsup often filled your Ohio-dreaming-into-humid-West-African-waking (the dogs and roosters fight early.) How
    tender! your wife whispers, holding up the half-moon of a burger like it’s a secret you mustn’t let on that you know. There is silent,
    worshipful swallowing. Nodding. The rescue of more fries.

    On long trips into the bush, your team of medics would have no choice but to buy dinner from the side of the road. Personally, you’d hope
    for pineapple eaten like candy, or peanut bread and roasted corn, hot
    pepper sauce to burn down louder hunger. But now (even now)
    you cannot forget a certain future dinner sitting with you
    in the back seat for hours of smelly meditation. “Bush meat” means
    any number of things, and the monkey stills stares at you, even here
    in your red plastic booth. Its hand refuses to stay at the bottom
    of the soup bowl. And yet, a careful swig of strawberry shake can wash
    the memory cold and fictional. Laugh-worthy.

    After the stomach finally settles (two Big Macs and shakes in one sitting),
    you remember where you’ve been. How will you show your family a photograph, say This is a woman we met only once. She has five children. She made us
    rice. “What’s wrong with her baby?” you know they will ask. This one– you’ll
    tell them, pointing to the blank-eyed girl perched upon hip, hair white, mouth open– this one has been chosen by her parents. “Chosen for what?” (You cannot stop
    this question) To die, you will say after swallowing, fidgeting with the long crease in your shirt, so the others live. You have taught it all your life, this clunking guilt; to your own little girls, you have stressed that it’s the way we starve ourselves that is important.


    Those who are not among us bring
    their cameras and their children. They leave
    what’s heavy on their hearts for a morning, a day.

    Those who are not among us bring ready
    billfolds, pay for bentwood rockers and log cabin
    quilts. So easy to buy
    an hour of quiet. It is not surprising
    on Sunday mornings to see a car with windows

    open stopped where the road dips between Salem and
    Sonnenberg. God is a cappella
    on the seventh day of the week; hymn crosses
    hymn between these two churches, and music carries
    off their centuries of feuding (this the visitors
    don’t know; it is rarely talked of now).

    What does our martyr family think as we
    sit back, barter our quiet to the world, pretend
    that we are holy, different? “Six friends ended their lives in
    great joy, and those that saw them burn went and
    penned a hymn, the first letter of each verse
    replacing the names of the dead.”

    Do we ever feel warm when breathing deep to offer up
    our harmony? Do we think of them
    as verses change? And what would they say, after
    watching us join the frontlines, deadlines?

    Burn us, bake us, drown us,
    World, and in the end, make us yours?

  3. jdaniel

    i hadn’t noticed this post before (or forgot about it). My Father Eats McDonalds is profound. i like your poetry, becca.

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