I Come to the Garden

I can name so few flowers. This is why
I’m not a better poet. Shakespeare knew
oxlip and gillyvor and eglantine,
while I, beyond camellia, violet, rose,
and lily, am reduced to saying, “There,
those crinkly yellow things!” Out on a walk
with mad John Clare, I’d learn a dozen names
for plants, and bless the wonders underfoot.
“More servants wait on man,” George Herbert said,
“than he’ll take notice of.” I know it’s true,
although I’ve never had observant eyes.
Would I care more if my heart’s soil were deep
enough for herbs and loves to take firm root?
Mine is a gravel garden, where the rake
does all the cultivation I can take.

“I Come to the Garden” by Gail White

Published in First Things, April 2012

Still Life with Flowers in a Glass Vase by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, 1650-1683


The Testing Tree

“The Testing Tree” by Stanley Kunitz, 1905 – 2006


On my way home from school
up tribal Providence Hill
past the Academy ballpark
where I could never hope to play
I scuffed in the drainage ditch
among the sodden seethe of leaves
hunting for perfect stones
rolled out of glacial time
into my pitcher’s hand;
then sprinted lickety-
split on my magic Keds
from a crouching start,
scarcely touching the ground
with my flying skin
as I poured it on
for the prize of the mastery
over that stretch of road,
with no one no where to deny
when I flung myself down
that on the given course
I was the world’s fastest human.


Around the bend
that tried to loop me home
dawdling came natural
across a nettled field
riddled with rabbit-life
where the bees sank sugar-wells
in the trunks of the maples
and a stringy old lilac
more than two stories tall
blazing with mildew
remembered a door in the
long teeth of the woods.
All of it happened slow:
brushing the stickseed off,
wading through jewelweed
strangled by angel’s hair,
spotting the print of the deer
and the red fox’s scats.
Once I owned the key
to an umbrageous trail
thickened with mosses
where flickering presences
gave me right of passage
as I followed in the steps
of straight-backed Massassoit
soundlessly heel-and-toe
practicing my Indian walk.


Past the abandoned quarry
where the pale sun bobbed
in the sump of the granite,
past copperhead ledge,
where the ferns gave foothold,
I walked, deliberate,
on to the clearing,
with the stones in my pocket
changing to oracles
and my coiled ear tuned
to the slightest leaf-stir.
I had kept my appointment.
There I stood in the shadow,
at fifty measured paces,
of the inexhaustible oak,
tyrant and target,
Jehovah of acorns,
watchtower of the thunders,
that locked King Philip’s War
in its annulated core
under the cut of my name.
Father wherever you are
I have only three throws
bless my good right arm.
In the haze of afternoon,
while the air flowed saffron,
I played my game for keeps–
for love, for poetry,
and for eternal life–
after the trials of summer.


In the recurring dream
my mother stands
in her bridal gown
under the burning lilac,
with Bernard Shaw and Bertie
Russell kissing her hands;
the house behind her is in ruins;
she is wearing an owl’s face
and makes barking noises.
Her minatory finger points.
I pass through the cardboard doorway
askew in the field
and peer down a well
where an albino walrus huffs.
He has the gentlest eyes.
If the dirt keeps sifting in,
staining the water yellow,
why should I be blamed?
Never try to explain.
That single Model A
sputtering up the grade
unfurled a highway behind
where the tanks maneuver,
revolving their turrets.
In a murderous time
the heart breaks and breaks
and lives by breaking.
It is necessary to go
through dark and deeper dark
and not to turn.
I am looking for the trail.
Where is my testing-tree?
Give me back my stones!

2017 in Books

I read a few books this year. Not from a reading list, because I’m perennially disappointed in my inability to stick to one. When you read for the love of reading, you tend to pull books off the shelf because they look appetizing, not because they’re on a list.

This past summer I studied abroad, didn’t work, slept like a hibernating bear, and read voraciously. This past semester, I was buried under several thousand pages of theology, but I came up for air with a few fictional texts. For the year to date, here’s my catalog of fictional things devoured. Let’s pretend that they were all on that book list at the beginning of the year, shall we?

Asterisks are re-reads. And yes, I included children’s books, but only if I deliberately read them, not drive-by read them during my frequent library loiterings. As always, there’s a substantial segment of YA, an odd spattering of middle-grade, and a few lofty classics. I think I read the way I drink coffee: I’m not [yet] snobby enough to shun Starbucks or cheap paperbacks.


Westmark by Lloyd Alexander

Persuasion by Jane Austen*

Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë*

Night School by Lee Child

The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima*

The Wizard Heir by Cinda Williams Chima*

The Dragon Heir by Cinda Williams Chima*

The Enchanter Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

The Sorcerer Heir by Cinda Williams Chima

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco

The Cocktail Party by T.S. Eliot

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman

Stardust by Neil Gaiman

Frederica by Georgette Heyer

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

The Year of the Perfect Christmas Tree by Gloria Houston*

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis*

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis*

Phantastes by George MacDonald

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

Pax by Sara Pennypacker

My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok

The Chosen by Chaim Potok

Jackaby by William Ritter

Beastly Bones by William Ritter

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Home by Marilynne Robinson

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry* (Katherine Woods, y’all)

The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick

Lament by Maggie Stiefvater

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams*

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski*

The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club of 1931

P.S. Please note: this is not a recommended reading list. The proper title is “The [fiction that filtered into Rae’s brain this year and may influence later writing] List.” Quite a bit of this would overlap with a recommended list, but if you want that, we’d need to sit down and chat over coffee. Because I can’t recommend a book until I know you. Cheers.

The Velveteen Rabbit (or How Toys Become Real)

The Skin Horse had lived longer in the nursery than any of the others. He was so old that his brown coat was bald in patches and showed the seams underneath, and most of the hairs in his tail had been pulled out to string bead necklaces. He was wise, for he had seen a long succession of mechanical toys arrive to boast and swagger, and by-and-by break their mainsprings and pass away, and he knew that they were only toys, and would never turn into anything else. For nursery magic is very strange and wonderful, and only those playthings that are old and wise and experienced like the Skin Horse understand all about it.

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

“I suppose you are real?” said the Rabbit. And then he wished he had not said it, for he thought the Skin Horse might be sensitive. But the Skin Horse only smiled.

“The Boy’s Uncle made me Real,” he said. “That was a great many years ago; but once you are Real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.”

The Rabbit sighed. He thought it would be a long time before this magic called Real happened to him. He longed to become Real, to know what it felt like; and yet the idea of growing shabby and losing his eyes and whiskers was rather sad. He wished that he could become it without these uncomfortable things happening to him.




I do not crave you

I do not hope and wait and seek you

I do not haunt your hours and stalk your times of solitude

I do not covet your looks and longings, the heady rush of crush and scent

I do not seek your passionate soul that does not know what way it bends

I do not yearn for a quest for me

And yet

Yet I crave the quiet fellowship

Yet I hope and wait and give the gentle words of cheer and challenge

Yet I hold and freely join the laughter of late nights and the joyful and fierce voices of life lived among others

Yet I covet and carefully bestow the hug of greeting, the look of anticipation, the touch that speaks what we cannot, the hand that holds what we do not always understand

Yet I seek the steady pace of life together

Yet I yearn for the grip of faith, the abundant joy of life as one

Yet I crave the love of another, the call to die and be undone, the astonishment of one accord, the profundity of fellowship that seeks not itself

Yet I crave us

And yet

I crave You

With The Bath Water

When data started to accumulate,
we didn’t think the end would be so tragic.
Facts were such fun, we could eliminate
non-facts. And so we threw away the magic,
the charms, the spells, the powers that removed
all obstacles, the sacred images
that won our wars, brought lover to beloved.
Then we threw out the demigods, the muse,
the spirits in the fountains, planets, trees,
followed by symbols, sacraments—what use
did modern myth-free mortals have for these?
Our reason set no limit to our pride.
Did we kill God, or was it suicide?

“With the Bath Water” by Gail White

Published in First Things, February 2015

The FatesMichaelangelo


I tended to be that kid who knew too much and nothing at all. Who snagged information with sticky fingers and wandered on without washing her hands. Who collected a dossier of business cards and phone numbers and scraps of background, because these were the important things. Information was safety, was power, was protection against surprise and, thus, fear. Information was important.

It’s snowing outside. The first snow of the season. Big, white, puffy flakes, tumbling down between rust-red bricks and clinging to scuffed concrete.

I tended to be that kid who loved puzzles and did them too much. Who disappeared into a world where all things fit just right and even the missing pieces were fine if you knew about the blank spots. Who did the same puzzle over and over again, because these scattered pieces would go back together the same way every time. Puzzles were safe, for no matter the shape, they all fit together, and, thus, so could life. Every piece had a place.

The snow was unexpected. I think it likes to be unheralded. Let the weatherman say to expect something, and then laughingly blanket the world in white. Somehow it is both lazy and scurrying, plummeting down to collect in fluffy piles. There are footprints in it now. No snow angels yet, but we didn’t dress to play in it today.

I tended to be the kid who knew things too early. Who collected words like rainwater and then looked them up in the dictionary. Who heard a line in a phone call and an adjective used and added siding to the house everyone had been told was only a blueprint, because these things just allowed a sneak peek behind the curtain. Knowledge was confidence, was confidential, would be worth knowing later, and, thus, worth knowing now. Everything could be known.

The snow is still falling. The students are having a snowball fight in the plaza. Some slide across the sidewalks to class, a few tiptoe, too many grumble. Someone threw a snowball against the window of our classroom. Out of joy or spite, I don’t know. Maybe it was done because that’s just what you do when there is snow on the ground. The snow doesn’t care. It just falls and paints the world white. If you stand still long enough, you can taste the bits of cold and become paint-speckled, too.

I tended to be that kid who did a lot of internal construction. Who heard one word and collected five. Who received an explanation and held it in her hand while digging through the pockets and memory banks to pull out the rest of the story. Whys and Whens and How-Tos were more than loose change for the vending machine of what actually happened. Whys and Whens and How-Tos could be re-used over and over again, because the picture could always use a little more focus and, thus, you were never quite blind. Or blindsided. It all always made sense.

It did not snow that night. We walked in with the lights dim and heard diplomatic words like “strategic” and “re-positioning” and “trends” and “reductions.” I’ve never seen us so silent. Afterwards, we didn’t scuttle across the plaza and make snowballs out of the unexpected matter that fell into our laps. We stood and held hands and prayed over all the words behind the words and all the lives behind the lives and all the undone things behind all the things we could-would-should have done.

The snow is slowing down. Perhaps it’s almost done. Still painting, still careless. Perhaps careful. Perhaps it’s deliberate, the way it settles into corners and the folds of a scarf. They’ve salted down the plaza, so now it’s slushy walkways and a slippery path of almost normal. It isn’t quite, though. It snowed. It snowed, and we tasted it, and it was good. It was beautiful. It is beautiful.

I tended to be the kid that thought too much and not quite enough. Who said too much and only sometimes the right things. Who thought about all the scraps of knowledge and pieces of information and wisps of knowing, because if I knew, it would be enough. As if I could patch the world together with just enough thought. As if I could suture a wound with just the right words. As if I could understand the bruise with just a little more knowing. As if all the information in the world could have kept the trends and predictions and funds and enrollments and reductions and calculated words at bay. As if all the information in the world could have told me how to sit at the back of the room and know what to say or what to do when I actually knew what I had already known. The pieces were all there. The curtain had been hung ajar for a long time. The pocket of loose change had told me, dollars and cents, what I could get. They just didn’t tell me what I could do.

It’s stopped snowing. The first snow of the season. Slushy, slippery, melting between the cracks in the rust-red bricks and scuffed concrete.

They won’t be coming back next year. Probably. Those professors who taught, those mentors who listened, those teachers who lived alongside us for a few years or perhaps a few decades or maybe just a few times a year, baton in hand. I don’t know many of them. I don’t know the what-when-why-how of their lives and losses. I don’t have those pieces. We’re all missing a lot of pieces, walking around with gaps. Some of them are tiny gaps. Some of them are not.

It’ll snow again, hopefully. I love the snow. I love the way it paints the world, and me, too. I love the way it turns dirty corners into white alleys, leaky roofs into bleached canvases, scraggly trees into dusted masterpieces. I love the turning of the world, even for a moment, into something new.

I will always be that kid who thinks she has all the pieces and doesn’t, actually. Who has read all the books and written all the notes and done all the puzzles twenty-six times. Who has heard all the conversations and seen all the signs and noted all the warnings each and every time. Who has actually done less than all of that and will never quite be ready for the actuality of things. But today I stood in the snow and stretched out my arms for the chance to taste something beautiful. But today I knew about the snow and was still astonished at the way it made things beautiful.

There’s a newness here, too, in the holding and the praying and the singing now. And there’ll be a newness there, too, when there are fewer people to participate in the holding and the praying and the singing. But praise to the Maker of snow and life: He still makes new, all things. Maranatha.