About JC Reilly

JC Reilly writes across genre and has received Pushcart and Wigleaf nominations for her work. She is the Managing Editor of the Atlanta Review, and has work published or forthcoming in Sediments Literary-Arts Journal, DISARM: a Gun Control Anthology, New Flash Fiction Review, Rabbit: a Journal of Nonfiction Poetry, and others. Read her (sometimes updated) blog jcreilly.com or follower her @aishatonu.

The Longest Hour of My Life, Or: a Confirmed Heretic Goes Back to Church

roman popeI recently decided to return to the Catholic Church over a decade of avoidance.  I had quit over a combination of disagreement with dogma, disgust at its sexism, and disappointment in the way it handled my need for spiritual help at a very painful period in my life.  I visited other churches in the interim (and almost joined the Unitarians), but never committed to any.  And let’s be honest, sleeping in on a Sunday morning seems to do me more good than most things, including listening to some man interpreting the Gospel and telling me how to live my life—especially when he has no idea what it means to be a woman in this (or any other) society.

It has been a rough transition back, though. Not because I’ve forgotten the prayers or the songs or the order of standing sitting kneeling—that stuff is ingrained from 12 years of Catholic school and years of being a good, practicing Catholic.  No, what has been difficult to stomach (besides the obvious horrendous sex abuse scandals which should make most of Church leadership burn in Hell) is the retrogression to pre-Vatican II High Mass BALONEY.

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Where will it take me/ what shall I do?*

long island surf

Image from the NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

During these falling and ebbing tides, a riptide can carry a person far offshore. For example, the ebbing tide at Shinnecock Inlet in Southampton, New York, extends more than 300 metres (980 ft) offshore.

–from Wikipedia

Now they tell me.

After I was swept out to sea on a rip current in Southampton, NY (yes, it was as scary as it sounds), the first thing anyone said to me at the writer’s conference (after “Oh My God!”) was “Write about it.”

I’m now two weeks past my fight with the ocean (where the ocean almost won), and I still don’t know what to say about the experience. Not really. I keep thinking I need to process it, but writers generally process things by writing about them.  Perhaps language is stronger than a nine-foot wave?

But that nine-foot wave that began my ordeal is all I can focus on.  I keep seeing it and remembering how instead of trying to swim through it, I turned around and tried to run from it, taking the full force of its power that knocked me over and began to drag me away from shore, filling my mouth and eyes with sand and salt and something viney, maybe kelp.

It’s that gray-green wave I keep seeing when I close my eyes, that creeps into my dreams and pulls me away from everything I know, making figures indistinct, small, if I can recognize them at all.  I am looking for new language to describe this feeling, but it’s as if the gray-green wave is pulling me towards every cliché you’ve ever heard about drowning—drowning in self-pity, drowning one’s sorrows, this drowning woman grasping at straws, etc.  Nothing seems real to me, but that gray-green wave.

And yet, the weird thing is, the fear and doom I feel now is all after-the-fact.  When I was in the moment, gasping for air and feeling helpless but trying to fight my way out of that current, fear and doom were not what I was thinking about.  I never thought, You’re going to die. Instead, I was angry.

Maybe that was adrenalin at work, my way of not losing my head—by focusing on my anger. Anger because misgivings about the waves had troubled me before I went in—I even wrote about them in my notebook while I watched the water.  Anger that I didn’t listen to my gut which said, Don’t do this, don’t go in, even between the safety flags. Anger for knowing how to swim well, and yet not being able to right myself and break free from the tumbling surf.  There is a kind clarity in anger, I suppose, and I was level-headed enough to quit struggling and to take the blessed hands that wound up hauling me to shore.

But now that wave haunts me, even four hours inland.  I didn’t go back to the beach after that day—I couldn’t.  I didn’t even want to see the water again—which is irrational and yet somehow petulant, as if the ocean betrayed me—who loves the ocean beyond most things (except cats, my mother, and Jesus)—when I’m the one who betrayed my own good sense to stay safe.

*****

I am looking at Google Maps of Coopers Beach, and from overhead the beach looks like nothing special, and the crests on the waves hardly as imposing as an eyelash.  Perhaps someday I will be able to view the experience through the transformative lens of art, and write the poems that I am meant to write about it.  For now, I think I will just end this post here—without details, without a timeline, without anything beyond the memory of that nine-foot gray-green wave.

 

*Lyric from Robert Palmer’s song “Riptide”

Solstice

Long beach postcard 1910

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

It’s the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  Sunset tonight is technically 8:51 p.m., but of course it will still be light out closer to 10 (for a total of 14 hours and 24 minutes of sunshine).  It’s the kind of day I could imagine myself being out by the ocean for as long as possible—you know, if Atlanta was on the coast.  Which alas, it is not.

I simultaneously love and hate this day—I love it because it’s high summer and there’s something interesting about the sun being out as I’m (supposed to be) readying myself for sleep.  But I also hate it because it means the days will now get progressively shorter, creeping as they do towards the fall and a new school term.  (I’ve had this love-hate thing with the day since I was little.)

Anyway, here is a poem I wrote several years ago commemorating the summer solstice.  Initially I planned to write something New Agey and mystical—but then I defaulted to funny.  This poem has always been one of my favorites, and it always makes me laugh.

Solstice

Tonight is the shortest of the year,
not enough time to break into Mr. Next Door’s
shed and rearrange his tools,
hide the scotch he keeps on a ledge
beside the coiled snake of orange power cord,
let the air out of the tires of his ’87 Impala,
fray his collection of ropes,
steal the front wheel of his Schwinn
and replace it with a stale doughnut,
spill turpentine into his jug of marbles,
stuff his sleeping bag with twigs and old leaves,
or tangle his fishing wire into knots
not even the navy knows about.
Tomorrow, the night is two minutes longer.

 

If you like this poem, you might like the others in my collection, La Petite Mort.

Some New Things Out

fat ladies coney island

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

It’s June, which means I’m hip deep in my annual summer doldrums, and not feeling particularly writerly—an unfortunate circumstance, because with things a little on the quieter side (not teaching summer classes, for instance), you’d think I’d be writing up a storm.

Alas, I’m too undone, wishing I was anywhere but in Atlanta (like these great ladies in this stereograph of Coney Island), and I’m so anguished about our current immigrant crisis (and general Washington, D.C. chaos) I can’t even really focus enough to write anyway.  I keep telling myself just hang on until the middle of July—which is when I’ll go away for a couple of weeks to the coast and hopefully rejuvenate my flagging spirit, but that’s still so far away.  Meanwhile, I’m melting into the pavement—and worrying about what new horror will assail us in the next hour of the news cycle.

Anyway, existential poor-me’s aside, I have a couple of poems/ nonfictions (depending on what you call them…I like to think of them as “poemeditations”) in the most recent issue (2017/2018) of Grubb Street.  (Scroll through the online journal to p. 3 and 4.)  These are more from my Venice collection, which will someday find a home, I hope.

And I’ve got five poems in the July issue of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.  Actually, it turns out these poems were supposed to come out in last November’s issue, but somehow there was a snafu and the submission disappeared (on their end) in Submittable.  It was lucky I followed up with Dead Mule, because the editor was mystified at how the poems had gone astray, but she was great and fixed it and now the poems are there for you to read.

If you like my work, feel free to leave a comment.  If you don’t, leave a comment anyway, and give me something else to brood about.

 

 

New Poem Up at Picaroon Poetry

picaroon-poetry-issue-9“Canali” is another one of my Venice poems, and I was so happy when Picaroon Poetry took it.  (You have to scroll through to page 35 to read it.) This brings my published Venice poem total up to 13 out of 22, or a 59% published rating.

You may wonder why I offer that metric—who cares?  But I share it because collections these days seem to list so many previously published poems on their respective acknowledgments pages—and manuscripts with multiply “vetted” poems seem to have a better chance of becoming books.  I know for a fact that some book publishers say that writers shouldn’t even submit a book to them for consideration unless 25% of the poems in the collection have been published already.  So my hope is, that with a 59% (or more) published rating, my chapbook will someday find a home. (I still have the rest of the poems from the chapbook out circulating, and hope that a few more will “land.”)

Of course, my full collection is 23% published, and it’s still homeless.  Which just goes to prove publishing will always be a crapshoot. *sob*

Christmas-in-July

Christmas tree old time

Image from NYPL Public Domain Digital Collection

Right now as I look at the time, it’s 12:25 on Christmas-in-July.

When I was little, I always planned parties in my head.  We had this mostly-empty garage behind our house that seemed rife with possibilities for two little girls with lots of imagination and plenty of time, and we talked about holding parties back there—for Halloween and for Christmas, and any number of other holidays, but never for Christmas-in-July.  Oh, not that I didn’t want such a party, but anyone who’s familiar with a humid Louisiana summer, full of “waterbugs” and other creepy insects that lurk in dark spaces, knows that hanging out in a garage with no A.C. isn’t the best way to spend an afternoon.

To this day, I often think about holding a Christmas-in-July party at my apartment.  You know, drag out the 4 ft. artificial tree, hang some fairy lights, crank the Christmas carols, experiment with home-made eggnog, and invite the people I work with over for the evening.  Around the actual holidays, everyone has so many Christmas and New Year’s parties to attend, that they couldn’t possibly fit one more party in, so I never hold a party then.  But Christmas-in-July…well, people are around town, and probably not doing a whole lot other than trying to hide from the heat.

But I never remember I want to have such a party until the actual July 25th is upon me, and by then it’s too late to pull anything together.  Maybe next year…

Anyway, a few months ago, I saw a submission call for Christmas stories for a Christmas-in-July themed issue of Edify Fiction, a journal that looks for “uplifting” writing.  And it happened that last December I had written a little Christmas story in Kathy Fish’s “Fast Flash” writing workshop, and it wasn’t doing anything but gathering dust.  And lo and behold, Edify Fiction liked the story, and took it for their fourth issue.

They made some editorial changes which I personally chafe at, including putting a comma in the title, and changing the tenses, but a pub is a pub. (Or so I tell myself.)  And I can “always republish it my way in my flash collection” blah blah, if I ever make one.

Anyhow, to cool you off in this hot Atlanta sun, please enjoy my story, “Love, Tinsel.”