The Last of the Easter Ham. Part Five.



Maureen was engaged in an edifying conversation with one of the ladies from the Altar Guild when it happened.

“I have been meaning to tell you,” Maureen said, “the lilies looked just divine last Sunday,” but her eyes were on the woman emerging from a canary yellow Volkswagen a few yards off. She was attempting, with some difficulty, to extricate herself from the car without setting down the large, foil-tented Pyrex roasting pan she held unsteadily with both hands. She flung her legs out the car door and scooted herself across the seat sideways, her dress bunching up around her thighs. When she stood up, she wiggled her hips to make her dress fall back to regulation length, and pushed the car door closed with her butt. “Just glorious,” Maureen continued through a feigned smile, the look of pleasure draining out of her eyes. Now what is this all about, she wondered. Continue reading “The Last of the Easter Ham. Part Five.”

The Last of the Easter Ham. Part Four.


Maureen had planned to take the leftover hot cross buns to the Holy Saturday service, but by morning there were only three left, and nobody knew better than Maureen how uncouth it would be to show up with only a handful of day-old buns. Better to come empty-handed than not at all, she thought, and figured we all came empty handed to the tomb of Jesus, except for the women who showed up that Sunday morning with spices that were probably cardamom and cinnamon and maybe orange zest. Even worse to show up with not enough food for everybody. Jesus knew that, she thought. He knew how to hold a feast, always having more leftovers than the food he started with.

As Father Dunbar read the line from the prayer about rising with Jesus to newness of life, she thought about the little pillows of dough rising on the countertop yesterday, cozily blanketed under a moist tea towel. She felt caught between two states. She wanted to go back and do it over, make a new batch and keep vigil at the stove so the buns wouldn’t burn this time. She wanted to go forward, to the big, bright feast tonight when she could celebrate and not be hungry anymore. In the meantime she felt suspended, between newness of life and the things she couldn’t undo. Continue reading “The Last of the Easter Ham. Part Four.”

The Last of the Easter Ham. Part Three.


Good Friday morning, Maureen awoke to the ringing of Harold’s old Le Coultre Memovox wristwatch, which she had set to go off at two-thirty. It was way too early to be awakened by any sound, least of all the tinny trilling of a vintage wristwatch, but it reminded her of Harold. It kept running long after he did. When it was new it was polished gold like the Easter chalice, but was now faded and scratched, and Maureen had to remember to wind it every so often to keep it going. He would have woken her up more gently, with a tiny shake of the shoulder. Maureen. Maureeee-eeen. Maureen, darling. She cracked her knees under the sheets and slowly began to stir. She sensed an animate presence in the room, and figured it must be his, or just decided it was, since if it were someone else’s she had a bigger problem. She rubbed her eyes and looked through the blinds. It was still dark.

She grunted and pulled herself out of bed, and thought only of going back to sleep. She fluffed her hair gently as if it were a squashed throw pillow, and put on her clothes. Maureen had chosen the three a.m. slot for the all night watch between Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, when the parishioners—those who could be bothered to—each spent one hour in front of a small, jury-rigged altar of repose in the side chapel of the church, made up in local greenery to look like a plausible Mediterranean garden. As the disciples themselves had attempted to do, they spent a dark night alone with Jesus, awaiting the dawn and the inevitable doom it would bring, praying. And like the disciples, many of them fell asleep while doing it. Continue reading “The Last of the Easter Ham. Part Three.”

The Last of the Easter Ham. Part Two.


Ten days earlier, Maureen heaved her cast-iron Dutch oven from a bottom drawer. She groaned and laid it as gently as she could on the range. A thin layer of rust covered its surface. It made her think of her children. “Lord, forgive me,” she said to herself. “Ought never let it get to this state.” She knew you weren’t supposed to store up for yourself treasures on earth and all that, but she figured if she were going to have any treasures on earth they would be made of cast-iron. She hated it when people talked about heaven as some misty cloud city where there was nothing but gold and silver and pearls. Not that there was anything wrong with gold or silver or—Lord knows—pearls, but they got it all wrong. No, heaven would be a warm place like a working kitchen in which there is one metal, Tennessee-forged cast iron, and the Blessed are swathed in the eternal aroma of rendered pork fat.

“I’ll give you my cast iron when you pry it from my cold, dead hands,” she said to no one, but imagined she was speaking to the folks who were all into ceramics and non-stick surfaces and wild marsh reed oil or whatever it was now. She just wished they could see that her larder was an actual larder, and not a pantry—whose shudder-inducing name made her think of underwear. They’d find in there, to their delicious horror, shelf upon shelf of lard, butter, duck fat, ham hock, schmaltz, salt pork, pork belly, all of which, if it was worth its salt, didn’t need to be refrigerated. If they’d really look between the droves and droves of animal fat, they might see a lone canister of vegetable shortening. Sometimes you had to make concessions to a decadent age. Leaf lard just wasn’t as easy to come by as it used to be. Continue reading “The Last of the Easter Ham. Part Two.”

The Last of the Easter Ham. Part One.


In an unprecedented break with tradition, Maureen decided that the Low Sunday picnic this year would be a catered affair instead of the usual bring-your-own-lunch, on account of the fact that she did not want to be subjected yet again to anyone dangling their moral superiority in her face with their freshly-cut carrots and their environmentally-sound glass containers. I know you don’t eat like that at home, she thought, picturing those holy grazers stuffing their fat faces with cheese puffs and ranch dip and Mountain Dew. A catered lunch would be a much-needed check upon such wanton Pharisaism, so unfitting at any time of year but especially in Eastertide, which is no time for vegetarianism.

It wasn’t just the conspicuous display of raw broccoli and gluten-free rice chips that bugged her; it was the act of presumption they implied. We will not be told what to feed our children, Maureen imagined them thinking, and how wrong they were going to be this year. They were no different than the poor fools who stopped off at Subway on the way to the picnic last year. I mean, how difficult is it really, she thought, to whip up a decent and unpretentious sandwich at home, you lazy jerks? But at last year’s Low Sunday picnic, at least the Subway crowd weren’t doing as the hypocrites did, who loved to stand around with their hummus and bell peppers, so as to be seen by men. Oh, they have received their reward in full, oh yes. Their reward this year was going to be a little taste of preordained cuisine, an opportunity for them to think of something more wholesome and edifying to do than parade around the picnic grounds with their industrial steel water bottles.

Continue reading “The Last of the Easter Ham. Part One.”

My first newsletter oh god this is awful I don’t know what I’m doing

I’ve got a bunch of news to share with you, so here goes:

  • has a new design, as sleek as a 1972 Vista Cruiser.
  • Starting on Low Sunday (April 23), I will be serializing my novella, The Last of the Easter Ham, a religious satire about Maureen, an imperious church lady and the reigning queen of the Low Sunday church picnic. This year, things do not go as planned. I’ll be serving one slice of Ham a week for six weeks.
  • Keep your eyes out for the next issue of Commonweal Magazine. It will include my essay, “The Voices of Bob Dylan.”
  • I’ve gotten hundreds of rejection notices, but a few weeks ago I received the weirdest one yet. Here is my response.

Thanks again for your interest and support!


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A Sermon for the Funeral of Susan Illges Lanier Maxwell

It may be the most beautiful word in the English language. It signifies something new but not unheard-of, the restoration of things forsaken, the turning of dark night to bright morning, the interruption of self-imposed restraint, the moment of ordinary grace in which a different order seems to break in: the order of gratuitous generosity, the order of unmerited gifts, the order of extravagant joy. It is a word we use all the time, maybe unthinkingly, but like those many other simple things which Our Lord hallowed by his use of them—bread, wine, water—the word has been dignified and elevated by Christ.

I mean, of course, the word “breakfast.”

Continue reading “A Sermon for the Funeral of Susan Illges Lanier Maxwell”

Letter to an Artist

After the election, you lost your ability to write. You told me you felt frozen. You were just trying to see clearly. What was the point of it all—the crippling doubt, the wrestling with words that will not bend, the tinkering with syllables, meter, form.

Should it be a villanelle or a rondeau, you asked yourself the night before. What a silly question now, you think.

What, you thought, when you woke up that morning, rubbing the gunk from your eyes. How.

You felt no commitment, no movement of soul, only a desire for retreat, for escape, for Netflix.

I know. I watched all of NARCOS Season 2 over two days in mid-November.

Continue reading “Letter to an Artist”