Embodiment - The Shenandoah Valley Inkslingers

Vol. 4, No. 3

We have chosen the theme Embodiment for the Shenandoah Valley Inkslingers edition of the Journal of the Center for Mennonite Writing. It’s a fitting theme for a Mennonite publication; an outsider reading the Mennonite Confession of Faith might be excused for believing that she now knows who Mennonites are, but those of us who are from, within, or near Mennonite communities know that enormous portions of Mennonite identity are tangible and irreducible: cooking, relief work, farming, bloodlines, schisms, and singing in harmony, to name a few manifestations of this embodied faith and culture.

In Kirsten Eve Beachy’s essay, tending to students’ physical hunger opens her to the possibility of a more visceral approach to teaching. Pam Mandigo’s play deals directly with the body—that is, bodies and the grave-diggers who bury them—and in this excerpt, the character Tom Wheeler’s troubles are embodied as the monster that pursues him. Jessica Penner’s essay about amputation explores disembodiment, and the way the body clings to its wholeness even after her fingers are severed. A myth of incarnation, shared between two characters in sign language, is Tonya Osinkosky’s contribution. Anna Maria Johnson describes how dance gave her permission to inhabit her body and became a way to be present with others in grief. The next essay, by Andrew Jenner, probes the ways the mind limits the flesh as it describes the experience of living inside one particular body. In Chad Gusler’s short story, miraculous signs herald a young writer’s inspiration. The closing piece by Alisha Huber celebrates books as physical containers for words and bodies as containers for the Word.

We are young writers, but when we gather as a body for our rituals of eating, laughing, critiquing, and sharing, we grow into our identities as authors, and we revel in the pleasure of being writers-with-writers. Andrew Jenner has compiled a Q & A with our group that further describes our process and history. -- Kirsten Beachy, May 2012

In this issue:

  • 0 read more Lavish Banquets

    Lavish Banquets

    by Kirsten Beachy

    If I had grown in some generous place—

    If my hours had opened in ease—

    I would make you a lavish banquet.

    ~Ranier Maria Rilke, trans. Barrows and Macy

  • 0 read more Give Us Good

    Give Us Good

    by Pam Mandigo

    The Characters

    TOM… a man with a monster

    AMELIA… his love

    Nebuchadnezzar, or NEZZAR… a grave digger

    Second Chronicles, or RONNI… his sister, or so she says

    Samantha Basil, or SAMBAI… the Monster Eater

    JEBEDIAH… a young wood cutter

    The Setting

    A Dark Swamp, once upon a time. Specifically, the Cemetery of the Ascendant Dead, and a clearing somewhere else.



    indicates overlapping speech.

    indicates the scoring of silence.

    SCENE 1

    The Cemetery of the Ascendant Dead.

    A gravedigger, NEZZAR, and his sister, RONNI, have just finished digging a grave. He is everything you have ever secretly hoped …

  • 0 read more Hymn Sing

    Hymn Sing

    by Jessica Penner

    The scent of a pre-op is unmistakable: rubbing alcohol, plastic, blood, and breaths of anesthesia. Such places are like Limbo. You are waiting for Something to Happen, and the only way you know that Something is About to Happen is the swish of scrubs meant only for you—the casual tone of voices that stride toward you long before the words become clear.

    I’m sitting on a gurney in Mount Sinai Hospital’s pre-op in New York City, waiting to have two of my tumor-laden fingers amputated. It is, admittedly, the least traumatic of the numerous surgeries I have had in the …

  • 0 read more The Gospel According to Juan

    The Gospel According to Juan

    by Tonya Osinkosky

    In this excerpt, Jesus (from Guatemala and who came to the U.S. when he was a pre-adolescent) remembers one of the stories about Quetzalcoatl that he told in sign language (italics) to his eight-year-old deaf nephew Juan (born and raised in the U.S.). While the Popol Vu, the religious manuscript of the Mayans, relates stories of “the feathered serpent,” in this narration Jesus fuses the legend with his own imagination of how Quetzalcoatl was created.

    I climb the next crest to a sweeping view of the Pacific. The land cuts a deep ravine and the trail winds around it. Sharp …

  • 0 read more A Brief Personal History of Dancing

    A Brief Personal History of Dancing

    by Anna Maria Johnson

    A story circulates throughout my extended family about the time that the wife of my father’s cousin, Gil, bellydanced at a family reunion, shocking and offending my Grandma Davis. Cousin Gil and his wife are no longer married—I can’t say whether the bellydancing incident had anything to do with that—but the story persists, casting a shadow on dancing of any kind.

    As a young girl in rural Iowa in the 1980s, during one of the brief intervals when our family owned a television, I watched the Christmas special of the Nutcracker Ballet, and wished to learn to dance. My mom …

  • 0 read more Vital Signs

    Vital Signs

    by Andrew Jenner

    Since you ask so intently, I’ll be frank. I do not eat meat because I think that doing so is wrong. Unnecessary. Unhealthy. Destructive to our world and disruptive to our society. And then there is the matter of slaughter, of ending the life of another creature, one possessed of emotion and intelligence, of the will to survive, and of the desire to act in its own self-interest –which we defeat with our barbed wires and bolt guns, those ones that punch steel rods down through the brain tissue, ostensibly sparing its victim the pain and indignity of bleeding out …

  • 2 read more Spanish Moss

    Spanish Moss

    by Chad Gusler

    Lenore was happy to sever her friendships. It’s for a higher cause, she wrote in her journal the day before they left. And though she feigned sadness when many of them showed up to help load the U-Haul, her heart lifted when her father finally turned the truck onto the interstate and began the six hundred mile journey to South Carolina, leaving her old relationships behind. She had always wanted to be a writer, a real one and not a dabbler like the rest of them, but the timing never seemed right. Now is the time, she wrote. …

  • 0 read more The Holy Book

    The Holy Book

    by Alisha Huber

    Some orthodox Jews kiss every book before they open it. Every book—not just the Torah, but rabbinical commentary, the Mishnah, The Joy of Cooking. This reverence for the bookness of books is something I understand, and I can picture them, men who surround their temples with curly brackets, gently turning the pages of Rashi or Cosmopolitan. Jews, Christians, and Muslims call themselves “people of the Book” but perhaps this small group of yeshiva boys treasures books in ways the others have forgotten.

    I thought of this tradition when my coworker introduced me to his young son, Evan. Evan …

  • 0 read more Q & A with the Shenandoah Valley Inkslingers

    Q & A with the Shenandoah Valley Inkslingers

    by Andrew Jenner

    How did you come to join the group?

    KB: Chad and I, along with a few other writers, got a group together around the end of 2005. Eventually Andrew joined us. For various reasons, the group fizzled out after a year or so. In 2008, we rose, phoenix-like, from the ashes. Over the years, four became eight. By last spring, we had to cap the size of the group and actually sponsored a local meet-and-greet matchmaking session so that more of our writing friends could form their own groups.

    JP: When I moved back to the 'burg, Kirsten and I …