No Man’s Land: Diane Glancy on Identity, Voicelessness, and Living in the In-Between
What would it feel like to live constantly in the “in-between”? To feel caught in the margins, to be stuck on the causeway, at the threshold, held in the foyer, neither here nor there? There is ambiguity and disorientation in the liminal space, and it’s a more common experience than you might think.
Diane Glancy, an American poet, author, and playwright of Cherokee descent has come to embrace this experience of liminality. She gathers voices in her novels and poems, sometimes completely nameless, forgotten or silenced by history. Her embrace reveals a commitment to finding meaning in the vague, unnoticed margins, in the negative space. Join us as we reflect with Diane on finding meaning, identity, and voice in the forgotten, in-between places of life.
- 0:00—Podcast intro
- 3:35—Begin interview, Diane shares her origin story
- 4:20—Diane introduces her experience of adjacency throughout her life
- 5:15—Early Cherokee creation story
- 7:45—The spiritual and cultural background of Diane Glancy’s upbringing
- 9:15—Adjacency as a Christian, a Native American, a woman, and a writer
- 11:50—On filling the spaces of her own adjacency—reference to her book, In-Between Places
- 12:30—On “liminality” and “adjacency”
- 14:25—Diane shares her experience of her own divorce
- 15:35—Evan asks Diane about her perception of space, but figurative and physical
- 17:40—The importance of place and the experience of land
- 19:54—Introduction to Ada Blackjack
- 21:40—Evan draws connections between poetry, liminality, and the life of faith
- 25:52—Diane reads from her poem “Asylum in the Grasslands“
- 27:35—Diane reflects on the poem and introduces her study on Job
- 28:40—Diane addresses the loveliness of suffering
- 30:00—The book of Job and its themes
- 30:27—Diane discuss her recent work on Job
- 32:10—Evan introduces the further story of Job’s wife and Glancy’s recent poetry in the voice of “Jaorah”
- 39:00—Diane reads her poem “Comet-Man’s Wife” (spoken in the voice of Job’s wife)
- 44:00—Trepidation and applying theological imagination
- 45:30—The cosmic release of suffering in three flamingos—Evan reads Diane’s poem “Now You Are More Yourself” (another about Job’s wife)
- 47:30—The poetics of suffering; what poetry does—presenting scaffolding, glimpses of cosmic adjacency
- 50:56—The Native American experience, Christianity, the relevance of Job (minus the restoration)
- 53:45—”My ways are not your ways.” Can we find loveliness or meaning in suffering?
Quotes from Diane Glancy
- “The liminal and the multivalent and the adjacency is always where I have found my being. Through writing, I have made it substance. There’s one word. Then you put down another word. Then you put down another word. Pretty soon, it’s solid ground.”
- “It just comes. It’s like a muscle or something that you use. You have a certain calling. Mine was to suffering and to the importance of the past, and to give historical voices to those that did not have a chance to speak.”
- The Table is sponsored by generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, and The Blankemeyer Foundation
- Theme music is by The Brilliance
- Production and engineering by The Narrativo Group
- Edited and mixed by TJ Hester
- Production Assistance by Laura Pelser
- Special thanks to Diane Glancy
- Evan Rosa on Twitter
- CCT on Twitter
Evan Rosa: “The Table Audio” is made possible by the generous support of the John Templeton Foundation and the Templeton Religion Trust.
Diane Glancy: I was watching a program one night on crime. They would dust for a thumbprint, and then they would put a piece of adhesive down, and then they would pull the adhesive off.
In that similitude of what had been there, looking at the tape, which you could see through except for these little lines, those were the voices. That’s kind of like the voices that I find.
The real thing isn’t there, anymore. There’s not a lot of evidence left by Natives and whoever I write about. That visage, that adjacency, that liminality, that’s what I do, the copy of the original voices that are no longer there.
Evan: I’m Evan Rosa, and you’re listening to “The Table Audio,” a podcast about seeking Christian wisdom for life’s big questions.
[background music ends]
Evan: Life is full of in-between moments. Honestly, lots of boring things can happen there, ultimately ordinary. Sometimes, the in between feels really significant, though, in between jobs, moving to a new town, finishing college or graduate school, getting married, breaking up, saying goodbye.
Those events mark transitions. You might be filling up the in between right now, listening to this podcast. It’s precisely that waiting in between the points of action that I’m talking about here, the uninteresting, the forgettable, the margins.
What would it feel like to live constantly in the in between, to feel caught in the margins, to be stuck on the causeway, at the threshold, held in the foyer or foyer, whatever, neither here nor there?
There’s a word for this experience of inbetweenness, liminality. It comes from the Latin word for threshold.
There is ambiguity and disorientation in the liminal space, and it’s a more common experience than you might think, but especially significant for our guest today, Diane Glancy, an American poet, author, and playwright of Cherokee descent.
Diane has come to embrace this liminality, which she also calls adjacency. Her embrace reveals a commitment to finding meaning in holiness, even in the vague, unnoticed margins, in the negative space.
She gathers voices in her novels and poems, heretofore unheard voices, often women or children, sometimes completely nameless, forgotten or silenced by history.
She picks up these historical figures that represent pain and suffering, Syrian refugees, Native American women, silenced and emotionally abused children, and she gathers them.
That act of gathering through poetry and historical fiction makes a voided space something meaningful. It’s an act of redemption and resolution.
Diane is professor emerita at Macalester College and spent two years as a visiting professor in the English Department at Azusa Pacific University.
Her most recent works are “Fort Marion Prisoners and the Trauma of Native Education,” “One of Us,” “Ironic Witness,” “Uprising of Goats,” “The Collector of Bodies — Concern for Syria and the Middle East,” and “Mary Queen of Bees.”
Her upcoming projects include reviving the diaries of Ada Blackjack, a Native Alaskan Iñupiat woman turned Arctic explorer, and a series of poems on Job’s wife and the problem of suffering.
All superheroes have an origin story. What’s your origin story?
Diane: It would have to be something out of the Bible, probably, “He set my feet upon a rock and established my goings,” that’s Psalm 40, and then another verse out of Joel, I can’t remember the exact verse, “He shall restore unto you the years that the locust hath eaten.” It’s toward the end of Joel.
Evan: What do those mean to you?
Diane: That there was substantiation from something outside myself, when I felt powerless, when I felt invisible, when I felt adjacent to the European culture, the Native culture, Christianity, in a way, academia.
I’ve had a long struggle arguing for creative writing, which is my discipline, which doesn’t hold up against the stronger disciplines of my former colleagues who had PhDs, and all I had was an MFA.
Whenever I went about searching out ideas or thinking about things, it was always through writing, creative writing. I didn’t have the privilege of the education early on.
I went to the University of Missouri in 1959. After that, I graduated, I was married, was a housewife for 19 years, and was then divorced, and went to the University of Iowa, again, because He established my goings. [laughs]
I was at a dead end. I had two children at the time and didn’t know what to do. But I had faith. I’ve had a lifetime in church, and it has been significant. It has formed my very being.
Many of the native stories go along with establishing some sort of solidity. One of the early stories in the Cherokee heritage was at one time there was a sky rock, a rock in the sky. Animals lived upon it.
It grew very crowded and they fell off into the water below. Different animals would go down trying to find some substance. Finally, it was the turtle who went down to the bottom of the water and brought up some mud and established it on the waters, so that when the animals fell there was a place on which they could land.
That’s why America is called “The Turtle’s back.” Our continent is the turtle’s back in the midst of the large sea. That is the same establishing substance that’s in the Bible. I think that’s one of the reason the Cherokee maybe were early evangelized because some of their basic beliefs.
Native tribes are very different. The Cherokee were easily assimilated. They were corn farmers. Then you get out to the Plains Indians that were more, how do you say, abstinent to assimilation. That’s where the last Indian wars were fought and rightly so. They were migratory buffalo hunters. The language is different.
I think the different Indian tribes came from different places. DNA, now that we have it, we’ve been looking into the different heritages. Many of the natives like the Navajo and Hopi came across the Bering Strait because they have ties to Asian DNA.
The Cherokee are very different. They have European DNA. Some of them had Mid-Eastern, some of them Iberian Peninsula…
Evan: That’s interesting.
Diane: …because of the early Phoenician sailors that came to this continent and mixed with the people that were already there. There’s just a mystery in the heritage of where certain tribes came from, and the Cherokee are first in saying, “We can’t really prove where they came from or who they are.” They’re such a different group, Irish, Scottish DNA were found.
Evan: That’s so interesting.
Diane: North African, which I also have. I just don’t have the Middle Eastern, Lebanon. The early Phoenicia I think was later Lebanon. Apparently there was a lot of sailing and a lot of mixing going on around the world that we just don’t have yet, but DNA is starting to reveal.
Evan: As a pathway to hearing you say more about your experience as a Native American woman, as a Christian, I’m going to steal one of my hero’s first questions which is Krista Tippet. She runs a radio show called “On Being.” She asks every one of her guests about the spiritual background of their childhood.
I wonder if you could infuse that also with like the cultural background of your childhood as well. This appears so much in your writing both in native experience and the Christian experience. As a way of going into that, say a little bit about your early experience with each of these things and how you understand it now?
Diane: My father was born in Arkansas because something happened in Indian Territory which later became Oklahoma. He was born and raised in Arkansas, but when his father died, he came to Kansas City. He was a very young man. This was in about 1928. He married my mother and they lived through the depression. Then I was born in ’41 and my brother in ’44.
We were very assimilated. We’re going to live in this world it is. My father worked for Amars, for the Meat Company his whole life. He was a man that took us to church. He was a very strong influence. He was also a very quiet man. We had an ordinary childhood.
I played with my brother. We went to my mother’s parent’s farm down in Kansas, 69 miles down Highway 69. The land spoke to me there. My mother was blonde and blue eyed. When my teachers would see her then was I adopted? What nationality was I? That was my first separation from identity from knowing that I was not this and I was not that.
She did not like my father’s heritage. There was this no man’s land. This open place, the adjacency again is a concept I’ve dealt with all my life and even adjacent Christianity.
My Methodist church has a very large bookstore and they do not carry my books, which I have given to them because they’re a little bit different. They examine suffering and “Mary Queen of Bees” shows a different picture of the Wesley family.
Evan: It certainly does.
Diane: I don’t think they liked it, but I have my right to tell my story as I saw it. Then also I want to say in the Native American heritage, there’s a lot of arguing now. If Native Americans aren’t arguing they aren’t really happy.
I’m going to get in trouble for saying that. Who has authority to speak as native? Is it blood quantum? Are you from a reservation? Do you have native language? Are you active in the Indian community?
For me, it’s no, no, and no. I’m an adjacent native, an adjacent European, an adjacent Christian, and an adjacent academic, because I was in a college where, when we had faculty grants, my colleagues would go to Oxford or the Beinecke at Yale.
I would ask for gasoline to drive back along the Trail of Tears, or to drive to Upstate New York and write about Kateri Tekakwitha, who was converted by the Jesuits in the 17th century, or to follow the rivers for Sacagawea.
I’ve always been a gatherer of voices. I don’t know. They just come to me. I found another interesting one lately. In the native heritage, the past is not separated. It’s not gone. It’s there with you. You can travel the Great Plains. I can tell when I’m coming on a historical site, a massacre site. You see there’s a plaque, but you know it.
Last summer, I traveled — it was probably 100 degrees — to Nebraska. They had brought some artifacts from the Smithsonian to display at the Ash Hollow Museum, out in Northeastern Nebraska. I drove all that way to see those because, in my imagination, I could hear the voices of those…Never with my ear, thank goodness. You just get attuned.
I’ve done this for 30 years. It just comes. It’s like a muscle or something that you use. You have a certain calling. Mine was to suffering and to the importance of the past, and to give historical voices to those that did not have a chance to speak, which I like to do. That’s why it was easy to write about Mary. I just used the same format that I did with the native voices.
Evan: You were speaking of your own adjacency. The way you speak about it sounds like you are finding your calling or have found over these many years of work. Filling in the spaces between these dominant expressions of life, each of which you find like a piece of your identity.
Evan: The way you speak about it, it sounds like there has to be the acknowledgment that it feels like you don’t belong.
Diane: That’s exactly right. That’s why all of the other voices that did not belong, it’s of community. It’s a world in itself. “In-between Places” is the name of one of my books.
Evan: That’s right. One word for that is “liminality.” Does that word help to explain that?
Evan: What does that word mean to you? These are very provocative and wonderful words, “liminality” and “adjacency.”
Diane: Yeah, and “multivalence.” That’s another good word.
Evan: Say a little bit about these words, especially insofar as you think it describes your approach to giving voice to the forgotten voices.
Diane: It’s when you fall off the Sky Rock and wherever we came from before birth. We find ourselves on the Great Waters that are moving unruly. You go down. You bring up these different fragments, and they grow.
The story goes on that — origin story — when there was just mud on the water, it was the vulture that came and was sweeping over the water. Where her wing hit the Earth, it lifted into a valley. Where it came up, it was the mountains. The development of our land, as it is, was different animals and different circumstances and different fragments coming together.
The liminal and the multivalent and the adjacency is always where I have found my being. Through writing, I have made it substance. There’s one word. Then you put down another word. Then you put down another word. Pretty soon, it’s solid ground. Where you can’t fill it in, there’s a river.
“Liminal” means not having a solid place to me. It means being in that afterglow. It means being in the place between places. It means trusting non-substance to become substance. That’s Christian faith. Sometimes, not having substance, but still knowing where you are going. When you put your foot down, there will be some substance there, some foothold for you.
Evan: In some ways, it requires a Christian to think liminally, insofar as there is, at the same time, a kind of faith and trust in a God of faith and trust.
Diane: Right. [laughs]
Evan: Yet, the human experience and condition is one that feels wafer-thin at times. It feels like there is no solid ground, like you missed the turtle’s back.
Diane: Right, but it is there with faith. I had mentioned last night, I was divorced in 1983, after 19 years of marriage. I had two children and nothing. I remember walking around the block, saying to the Lord, “If you take Your hand from me one minute, I will perish.”
In “One Place,” I say, “My sense of place is in the moving.” It is in the passage over land. That’s very important to me. I always have books on tape. I have a project that I’m working on. I think about it. I hate to sound too cosmic, but the land is there, the voices of the past.
Yet, it is a hard, practical world, with a hard economic world that we are up against. I’ve always been very practical. My mother was German and English. You get up in the morning. You have your socks folded and in their drawer, your lunch at noon, and your dinner at five, [laughs] and go to bed at what? Nine? That was very important.
My father was more fluid. They were very different people. In those days, you did not get divorced. You stayed. In fact, when I was divorced, my mother’s main question to me was, “How are you going to survive?” because I had not really had a job. This was in the old days.
Evan: Let’s talk a little bit more about this idea of space and the importance of place to you. This is becoming alive to a lot more Christians. Especially as we observe natural spaces, we’re trying to create more…We control the land more. Oftentimes, that means we brutalize the land more.
The way you speak about finding your place and moving over particular spaces and finding meaning in particular places. We were talking last night about, in a very hard and violent way, how in the absence of God’s people crying out, the land will cry out. Talk about the importance and the spirituality of place as you are finding it in the Christian Native American.
Diane: I’ve always loved the land. As I said, my mother’s German and English grandparents were farmers. I picked up the land there, too, even as an infant. I have an old photograph album. My first trip was when I was three months old. We went down to my mother’s parents’ farm.
Once in a while, we’d go back to my father’s people. I would see my mother stiffen in the front seat. She did not like them. We did not go there as often as we did her parents, which they went quite often.
I just remember playing on the farm with my brother. There was something there that was real, that I didn’t feel as much in our house in Kansas City, where I walked up the hill to Francis Willard Grade School in the late 1940s.
There was freedom on the farm. There was a release from something in the point of travel. The trees and the hedgerows and the furrows of the field and the little creeks and rivers that cut into the highway and the bridge across it. I don’t know. There was just a feeling of, “This is where I belong.” There was a sense of presence.
When you live in Kansas, you’ve got a lot of states. North is Nebraska and South Dakota and North Dakota. There’s nothing up there. I’ve driven up there. [laughs] South is Oklahoma and Texas. It’s just land all around me, whether I go east or west.
I’m really happiest driving. I have to be by myself. It’s when I’m on a research trip, when I’ve done a little bit of research and have some information in my mind. Then I listen to another book on tape. It’s sometimes not even related to what I’m thinking about. It’s very important to my work.
I was watching a program one night on Crime. They would dust for a thumbprint. Then they would put a piece of adhesive down. They would pull the adhesive off.
Diane: In that similitude of what had been there. Looking at the tape, which you could see through except for these little lines. Those are the voices.
That’s the voices that I find because the real thing isn’t there anymore. There’s not a lot of evidence left by natives and whoever I write about. That visage, that adjacency, that liminality, that’s what I do. The copy of the original voices that are no longer there.
Evan: Hello, friends. Thanks for listening to “The Table Audio.” We’re all about bringing conversations your way that help chart the course between Christian perspectives on big ideas and wisdom for real life.
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Our guest today, Diane Glancy, spoke and read poetry with another contemporary poet, Scott Cairns, at a recent public event on exploring suffering through poetry. Those sessions, along with much, much more, are all on our website and YouTube channel.
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Diane: One morning, I opened my Facebook. There was Ada Blackjack. Somebody had written something about her. Who is she? She had her little Eskimo face. She had gone in 1921 with four wild explorers to Wrangel Island in the Arctic Ocean. That’s just off Siberia. It now belongs to Russia.
They got marooned for three years. She was the only one that survived. She left a diary. She had been brought up in a Methodist mission in Nome, Alaska. Her parents had died.
I held her little diary in my hand. I saw the pictures in that expedition. I’m getting goose bumps as I talk about it. That voice was there. I’m now working on Ada Blackjack because her diary was fundamental. “Today, I hunted for three birds. Today, three men left to try and get to Siberia to get us help, because we’re running out of food. The game is scarce.”
Lorne Knight, the one man — I’m still getting goose bumps — was dying of scurvy, which is a terrible death, actually. She described a little bit of it, and how she fed him seal oil. She found duck eggs and bird eggs so that he could swallow because he couldn’t chew anything.
What was the spirit? What was she leaving out of her diary? That trip to the liminal, to the adjacency, to what it was like to be an Eskimo woman. She didn’t know how to put herself, her identity. She didn’t know how to get outside the daily, but you can see it in one or two little places. That’s what I’m filling in.
Evan: It’s like the space between the words.
Diane: Right, exactly, which is a lot what contemporary poetry is about. You leave out certain words and make the…again, these land bridges or the stones in the water that you have to fill in, the adjacency.
Evan: This is the imagination that…You can see how easily it can support or fund a life of faith when we’re given quite a bit. We’re given the Scriptures. We’re given a prayerful access to God. The fact is we have precious little, comparably.
Developing the skill that you’re talking about having developed over these decades, it looks like it’s the value to a life of faith that allows us to participate and imagine into this human experience of trying to give voice.
Many of these unspoken things are deeply painful. When we don’t have words for them, when we don’t have a narrative or a story or stepping stones, the land bridges, it can feel like it leads to isolation.
It leads to losing something in a demeaning and despairing kind of way. The forgottenness that so many of these historical figures…Think about the billions of people that are lost to history.
Diane: Ada Blackjack was alone on the island for about three months. The three men who disappeared, they were never seen from again or found. Lorne Knight was slowly dying. It took him about three months.
She hadn’t even known how to shoot a gun, but as she had to start hunting, as the only one there, Jesus appears again and again in her diary. “I thank the Lord. I thank Jesus that I shot two birds today. I thank Jesus…”
Especially after he died, you see that name over and over in her diary. This faith that she had had in the Methodist mission school that taught her to write and gave her faith, it came back when she needed it later in her life.
Diane: At the very end of her diary, she said, “I think I survived because of the Lord.” All the way through, especially when she gets desperate, especially when she’s suffering. The loneliness of the Arctic and her fear of polar bears because they were fierce, in her desperation, it’s really good.
I’m going to do that. I don’t know what it’s going to be yet. Maybe a one-woman monologue, a one-woman play. I don’t know yet. As you face the desolation, what are you inside? That’s what’s good about suffering.
Evan: That’s the question, what you just articulated.
Evan: Ada Blackjack, clearly, is a launch point for anybody. The fact is that as you face desolation, who are you? In what sense is that true for the kind of…in particular, maybe the poetry that you write?
Diane: Just what you said, the fazing of the land and the opening up into a new terrain. I mentioned last night about traveling to North Dakota in a snowstorm, with the ice crystals in the air and the sun. Seeing the sundog for the first time, the way it separated the known world. There was the major light and two little lights off to the side. I’ve seen the northern lights, too.
That, in a time of desperation and the cold weather and the ice and the nine-month winter that is in Minnesota, there is something that opens up in a deeper sense. You are connected with something beyond the earth and known experience. All you can say is, “Dear Lord.” [laughs]
Evan: The poet Scott Cairns talks about poems and experiences with troubled terrain. “Rough ground,” you might say. He marks our familiar and common experience of particular places and spaces.
He speaks of a way that, “Most have stood near the hilltop, the stream bank, the village park, and witnessed a startling moment when some tilt of the head or sudden turn of the mind occasioned a deeper seeing.
Some portal opened and we glimpsed more than is commonly observed. Then another thing happened, every bit as curious. We turned to our friends and tried to tell them about the experience, as if in returning to experience in language, we might, in some way, witness it again.”
In Diane’s poetry, there’s an awareness of this openness to what an otherwise forgotten place or a nameless face has to offer the human experience. Would you read “Asylum in the Grasslands?”
Evan: This whole poem.
Diane: [reads aloud] “Asylum in the Grasslands. He commanded them to sit down on the grass, Mark 6:39. When some adjustment occurs, not in the actual circumstances — no, they seem to stay the same — but in one’s attitude or way of viewing as aperture. That small squeak of passage into acceptance or at least livability, so one is not assumed to be in a lock that can’t be stepped beyond.
“It is a fragile gate, the opening of faith. The letting of anotherness into your shadow box. You know you’ll feel a kind hand somewhere in the middle of your back. It’s not that you want to be relieved of your burdens. It’s what you’re here for, to feel the problems before you like a filing cabinet.
“There’s someone in the prairie grass, his face so full of light. He’s milk-eyed. You think maybe this is the savior you’ve nailed. He seems to understand.
“You let his ideas roll over you. You even forget the bitterness you learned all your life. Though you know there’s a loveliness in suffering, but you let go of it a little. You assume the air, walk over what was supposed to be your grave. You even feel it’s the way it’s supposed to be. This savior who sucks you into himself. This man with his eyes in backwards.”
Evan: As you re-read that, after so many years, what…
Diane: It’s exactly as it was. You come to these places. There’s a wall, there’s a wall, and then there’s a little aperture. You gain another understanding. You let go of bitterness. You think this world is just a shadowbox, that real reality is above. Yet, there’s a loveliness in suffering.
That’s why I’m also doing this long study on Job. I often think, “What would have happen to me without the Lord?” I would have been stuck at some terrible place in Oklahoma.
When you don’t have a lot of talent and you’re faced with the hard economic wall of the world, as I mentioned, and you have two children who want to go to college and did go, and yet you survive, what should have taken you down into your grave, or spiritual grave or whatever?
The savior who sucks you into himself, this man with his eyes in backwards…because I love history. I love the past. I look back to the cross and start out again, across the Arctic with Ada Blackjack and Job.
Evan: This is a paradox, if ever there was one, the loveliness of suffering. To some, that comes off as a dangerous word. Those are dangerous words.
Diane: No. The Lord lived a very dangerous life. We are called in the danger [laughs] in the Christian realm. I wanted to say if I had had a different kind of marriage and stayed married all my life and had been happy, I probably wouldn’t have been on my own, like I have been, to lean on the Lord, to have to have that otherness with Him.
That was Ada’s problem, too. We just don’t get along on our own. Maybe it’s women. Maybe it’s the same with men. We don’t do well against the vacuum.
I found the loveliness of my desperation and my need for another. That’s when the Lord came into my life and gave me more than I would have ever had on my little self-satisfied life. You know that I see others in…He made me look beyond out of necessity, out of lust, out of suffering.
Evan: I can’t help but notice that it’s one of those moments, again, where the loveliness comes in the spaces.
Diane: Exactly. I’m very…
Evan: If it’s coming in the space between the suffering or what the suffering suggests, the wounds that it creates are spaces for loveliness or beauty or acceptance and love.
Diane: He is a balm of Gilead. He has a lot of those names.
Evan: It’s generally agreed upon by Biblical historians that Job is the oldest recorded Biblical narrative. This is fitting because it treats perhaps the oldest question of human concern, the problem of suffering.
A work of poetry. Within that poetry, there is a scientific catalog of creation. There’s love. There’s friendship. There’s deep loss, betrayal. There’s the problem of misunderstanding one another, misunderstanding God.
Diane: Job has always been my favorite book in the Bible. I told you I’ve gone to church all my life. We’re talking back many years. There was just something that always resonated. The language, I love the metaphors and the similes and the images and the rhythms.
When you read it out loud, I can almost speak…English is a wonderful language. Of course, this wasn’t originally English, but we can almost still talk iambic pentameter, that heartbeat rhythm that you can pick out of the King James version.
It was just all of these together with Job, who has a very tidy story. He was a righteous man. He sat on the gate of Uz. He was a leader. All of a sudden, suffering came unto him. In the midst of his suffering, he found an attitude that needed to be adjusted.
It appears when he says…He’s talking about the young men who are holding him in derision as he suffers. He says of them, “Whose fathers I would have disdained to sit with the dogs of my flock.” Yikes! [laughs] There is some really proud statement.
There must have been gypsies or Indians in Uz. He was looking down upon them. “They aren’t worthy to sit with the dogs of my flock.” That’s one place where God nailed him. Job says later, “I now recognize myself, and I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Those aren’t the exact words, but it’s like that.
Job has an attitude adjustment. He asks God for forgiveness. Then all is restored. In fact, twice of what he had, except for sons and daughters. He still had seven sons and three daughters, new ones that were given unto him. That’s a very tidy and wonderful story.
Evan: A decidedly messy and very untidy story is that of Job’s wife. In fact, if there’s a second villain in Job, somewhere just short of Satan, it’s Job’s nameless wife. Most widely known for her brief and intense suggestion that Job curse God and die. Saint Augustine calls her the “devil’s accomplice.” Calvin thinks of her as an instrument of Satan with diabolical fury.
What else is going on in the wide margins around the 10 words she’s given in the drama of Job? It sounds like a job for Diane Glancy, the poet for the voiceless.
What would it be like to hear more from this nameless woman? What would she say if she were given more lines? What can we learn from an imaginative development of her character? Diane gives some explanation here before she reads one of her exploratory poems, which she entitles, “Comet-Man’s Wife.”
Diane: The first thing I’m going to talk about is Job’s wife because her story is messier. It’s not tidy at all. What did she gain out of her suffering? She lost 10 children, to whom she had given birth, which I think is even more significant to a woman than a man. Yet, we don’t know.
Sometimes, the Bible gives us scuffling. She is one who is scuffled in, just a bare outline. Again, her adjacency to the story of Job, which is so significant. To me, she was a very substantial character. Her practicality in carrying on as she kept the hacienda together, as she was grieving and as Job was ignoring her, sitting out there with his three friends.
She was invisible before God, whom she also accuses of being invisible to her. I just got inside her imagination. She became momentarily much bigger than the story of Job himself. It was so easy to see why he suffered, in my opinion, anyway.
The many facets of Job, this is another thing I like about the Bible. It’s the simple story, in a way, of a man who suffered. You can go off into this valley and this river and this mountain and this farm. It goes on and on, the different ways you can see and feel and be.
With Job’s three friends, who also represented different aspects of the human experience, and then that fourth friend, Eliphaz. God who speaks in the very end, “And where were you guys when I laid the foundations of the earth?” With that one verse, He lays them all flat.
Job becomes an intercessor because God says to him, “Pray for your friends. Have them bring you some oxen that you can sacrifice and pray for them.” Job becomes, in a way, a Christ-like figure that God forgives those men and their unfair accusations of Job.
The dimensions, as I keep writing about this…and I’m bringing Native American history into it. Job is there in my trip to Ash Hollow in Nebraska to see those artifacts, because I was listening to Job. I also have the Bible on tape.
When I hear it in my ear, that oral tradition, that’s when I hear some of these dimensions. This has been an accrual of my whole life of loving Job, of loving suffering, of being called to look at the harder things.
Evan: There are a few villains of Scripture. You think of Judas Iscariot, obviously, the devil. When Job is discussed, Job’s wife gets a pretty bad rap. She’s villainized because she dares to speak what I know many people would be embarrassed to reveal they think, “Curse God and die.”
Diane: “Turn your back on Him. Go away.”
Evan: The audacity of speaking this.
Diane: That’s also many natives who were educated in boarding school, or whose parents were, because there’s no longer the kind of boarding schools they were. “Turn your back on God and walk away.” They become…
Evan: In the spirit of taking up these voices that are in the adjacency, before you read this, I wonder if you’d say — or maybe after, whatever you like — what is it about the voice of Job’s wife that needs to speak to us?
Diane: Because she represents real life more than he does. I mentioned the easy — caught in suffering, needed to correct, needed an attitude adjustment, was restored. That’s pretty clean, in and out, in what? 40 chapters in the Bible.
Job’s wife is planted there. What are you going to do when you face bitterness and loss, and there’s no answer waiting for you? You’re ignored by the men who are sitting out there, talking their philosophies and their accusations and their reasonings. You’re sitting in the kitchen with the servant girls, and you have to feed them.
In one place, she says, “Don’t put any spices in the gruel. Give them the hard bread.” [laughs] Her anger is evident there. It is so easy to face bitterness when you’re going through loss and a hard time, and especially when it lasts a long time.
She is there. What did she get out of it? That’s up to the individual who reads it. She stood with substance between the coils of the toaster. Remember when you asked me to give you a snappy title?
Evan: Yeah. [laughs]
Diane: I said, “Let her fire up her toaster.” That’s just what she did, in her anger and righteous indignation, and rightly so. What was going on in the inner Job’s wife? I even gave her a name, Jaorah. What was going on in the inner being?
Diane: [reads aloud] “Comet-Man’s Wife.”
“What do I know of the God Job heard? What do I know of the universe? I wait on the tarmac in Uz for my flight. What longing to be elsewhere than this Earth? Why can’t we just have Earth? But the terrible stars thwock over us with their noise. They are bright and sharp as bee-stings. I swat them. What bee-blaze before us? What sting, this Earth?
“I watch Job suffer. I have no investment in this. He saw something I did not. We hold these multiple views of the universe. He talks to God, but I see no one there. His convulsions, his conclusions are not for everyone. A stone falls in a straight line for one. The same stone falls in a parabolic curve for another. Why did he hold so steady in his views?
“My husband taught the children, ‘How did life come to be on Earth?’ ‘God,’ they answered. ‘Is there life somewhere else in the universe?’ ‘The Lord God in His Threesome.’ ‘Can we communicate with the Godhead?’ ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘through prayer.’ In this way, the universe is sacred.
“Who is this God who throws a puzzle to trip us up? It is His way or no way. If only God would share what He knows. He takes my seven sons and three daughters and puts more sons and daughters in their place. Jemimah, Keziah, Keren-happuch are the new girls’ names.
“Did He think all was mended? I hear the cries of my first sons and daughters. The loss of thousands of sheep, donkeys, oxen, and camels.
“Job watches the planets through his telescope, his parchment rolled into a tube. These nights are a field of bees. The spears of stars fall past us. This star watcher, this comet-man. ‘Have you not heard?’ Job said to me. ‘He walks in the circuit of heaven.’
“I think of space rolled as a parchment into a tube through which the planets pass. If only we were alone here, without the watcher, the beekeeper over us.
“The planets circle the sun on their course, their roll-ways, their little corridors. A children’s game, but this is not a game. We are the condensation of elements from this far-off God. We live. We suffer. We are gone. What do I know of peace?”
Evan: There is hiding away in the voice that you give to her in another poem, “Now, You Are More Yourself.”
Diane: Yeah. That’s several years. That’s one of the earlier poems, the one I just read. The more I thought about her, the more I understood the complexities of her being, which are not stated in the Bible. You have to use your conjecture, your creative imagination, which you can get in real trouble for. You can’t do that. You can’t add.
There’s a wonderful verse at the end of Revelation. “Woe to anyone who removes anything from the Bible or adds to it.” I walk with trepidation in this area. I’m not adding to the Bible. I’m adding as an outside person who likes the Bible and who wants to say, “There’s a lot of scuffling.”
I would like to use my creative imagination. It may be sanctified through prayer, but I can fill in the missing parts. I needed that. I need them there.
Evan: There’s a release. The word is escaping me, but the release that comes from reading these words for someone who’s suffering, has felt it, or whose voice has been silenced in the wake of the suffering.
Diane: It builds faith to hear what maybe she went through. By the way, there’s…
Evan: Because it’s an honesty. It’s the honesty of it.
Diane: Another verse I like is at the end of the Book of John, who also wrote the Book of Revelation. He said, “If everything was written down that Jesus did or that went on, I suppose the world alone would not be able to hold it.”
Maybe that’s part of the reason for the scuffling in the Bible. The Lord sometimes just plants a little word like, “Curse God and die.” Whoa! What does that mean?
Evan: When you hint or signal toward that now, it’s as if just leaves and leaves and spines and spines of books. Now, you need to say something about what is going on there.
Diane: Right, the explication of things that are hinted at. Does God mind us doing that? I hope not. I’ve gotten away with it for 30 years. A lot of it is native women. I seem to be able to do it with the Bible, too, and have survived. Maybe He doesn’t mind if I do that, but I do. I do. Trepidation, that’s what I feel. Can I really do this?
Evan: I hear that. What that indicates is that there’s a courage that needs to come along with this. I don’t know how you feel about that. That’s what I…
Diane: I also try to get around it with another similitude, the tarmac within that first poem. She’s standing on a tarmac, ready to fly away.
Of course, there were no tarmacs in Uz. I take it out of history and put it into the present time, in my own imagining. I give myself permission to do that. You take that tape off the thumbprint and use it for your own forensic files, spiritual poems.
Evan: You do this as well in “Now, You Are More Yourself. She’s Job’s wife, hiding in the…
Diane: …you read that poem.
Evan: OK. [laughs] [reads aloud] “Now, You Are More Yourself. You open the book to three friends — Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar — talking on the portico, the hacienda, a few flamingos in the yard. Servants raking leaves, with the soothing sound of a rake sweeping gravel or scraping bowls.
“If Job could reach the elevating pain, the humiliation in front of friends who nick him with their words. Could he talk to someone else?
“His wife, hiding in the kitchen or making herself scarce in her room, what could she say to alleviate? She was in over her ears and cried to herself in her room. Between the large wardrobe and the wall, she could wedge herself between. If he opened the door, he could not see her, if she could stop her weeping and be quiet.”
The images here, it’s that single family, a three-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath home, with suffering hiding between the doors.
Diane: Yes. With that cosmic release of putting three flamingos in the yard, I said, “God, forgive me for doing that.”
Evan: …which is great.
Diane: A home of intense suffering, that you want to get between the chifforobe and the wall and never be seen again.
Evan: [laughs] I love that because this is the stuff of life. Life is not only cosmic. Life is…
Diane: Three flamingos in there.
Evan: Yeah, or maybe just three flamingos are, in fact, cosmic.
Evan: Thinking about the poetics of suffering, you say this writing in poetics. “Poetry is prone to leave space around it on the page. The silence of poetry is a silence to the prose of ongoing words. It leaves the unsaid on the page, especially native poetry, which is the mere outline of thought, of the form addressed. It is its holy aspect.”
What can we say about the avenue, the means, the vehicle that the form of poetry provides to the problem of suffering?
Diane: To find the loveliness of it that we were talking about earlier, the purpose of it. It’s something that you don’t want to look directly at. If you do, that’s where some of the glory is.
As you were reading that, I could see myself riding on the car, driving across Nebraska 500 miles from Kansas, up to the northwestern corner, to see these artifacts. Driving by myself. Listening to the Book of Job. Doing a little suffering, too. It must have been 100 degrees that day. By myself, feeling lonely.
When you travel by yourself a long time, you open up new avenues. The basement is there. The attic is there, that you don’t usually see in this house. More than the flamingos in the yard, probably a buffalo or two standing there also.
It just broadens one’s space that you inhabit as a human being. It makes you one with the land and the sky and the Lord and what He came to earth to do and His suffering.
Evan: Can you speak to the experience of the reader? It’s helpful to hear from a poet, from those who both love and hate poetry, about what you hope it does.
Diane: Some poetry is hateful, I agree. There’s a lot of poetry I don’t like. The kind of poetry I do like, which is more abstract, that’s a lot of what I’ve just complained about in the Bible. It presents a scuffling. “Here are a few words and here’s a few words. How you link them up is up to you. I’m just giving you little pieces, little fragments.”
That’s what we’re doing right now in poetry, an abstract, eclectic…”I’m giving you little glimpses into my universe. Maybe you can take a few of your glimpses and put them together, and create a being or a space for yourself.”
In that way, we connect in a liminal [laughs] cosmic adjacency, so that we, who are separated by so much, can find a common ground for just a moment to stand upon. That’s what a lot of this poetry does.
I open up the American poetry, where you…”What is this? I don’t get it. I don’t like it at first.” I see a couple of words or a couple of images. I know what they are doing — giving us hints to the pilgrims, hints of some depths of experience that I want to share with you. I’m not going to put it in boring words, or it would be an essay.
Evan: Given her Cherokee descent, an ongoing interest for Diane’s poetic and creative endeavors has been to give voice to the Native American experience. That experience has been difficult, to say the least.
What textbook American history has come to regard as settlement first meant displacement. For some native peoples, there has been restoration, but at what expense to their culture?
For others, the Native American experience has been nothing short of atrocity and tragedy and loss, yet even in those wounds, Diane finds the capacity to bear something beautiful and fruitful and meaningful.
Diane: Reading to Native audiences, I always apologize, but I feel it’s my calling to look at the past, the history of Native education, the difficulty of it, the trauma of it, just to remember what has been gone through to be where we are now.
Evan: Reading Job through the Native American experience, or maybe reading the Native American experience through Job. Perhaps it goes both ways. I think that, for many Americans, the sad truth is that the suffering of the Native experience, the first Americans, is becoming more and more forgotten, or perhaps it’s just ignorance, a kind of inability, or discomfort with it.
Diane: That’s very true. In Oklahoma, the Cherokee Trail of Tears is being removed from history books. Here in Los Angeles, the Indian Mission, San Gabriel and others, they’re no longer taking grade-school children to hear that history, that early, brutal history, so I think it is being forgotten.
I think, for a lot of Natives, Job is true, except for the restoration at the end. They have not had restoration. I’m speaking a lot of the Plains Indians who still live on reservations in poverty, alcoholism, abuse, addiction of many kinds, hopelessness.
For other Natives, there has been restoration, but it’s come with a loss of the past. I have made a lot of Natives mad saying I’m glad for assimilation. I had a job teaching. I have my freedom. I have a car. I can drive. I can have my words that I write. That’s a restoration, just like Job had.
“You’ve sold out. You’ve become White in your way of life.” It’s true. I don’t know the reservation life and those kinds of hardships. I’m out and beyond.
It’s still very problematic. You’re going to be in trouble no matter what you say, [laughs] so I’ve made a lot of people mad.
Evan: This just comes back to the adjacent places that you find yourself, but the loveliness of suffering, this is one sense in which it stings to touch on this and to say that there is loveliness in suffering, when you consider the waiting for restoration that certainly many Native Americans must feel.
Diane: That’s true, and I do too, somewhat. There are many things. We all do. I think there’s a little bit of suffering in everyone.
One of my favorite verses is, “My ways are not your ways.” I think, in leading us through these different sufferings…because Job’s wife, to me, represents a suffering for which there were no easy answers.
You don’t really know, sometimes, why you’re suffering. You don’t get this sudden reward after it’s over. I think that’s why, in a way, she’s much deeper, in a way, as you travel through certain swamps, and you don’t know why you’re there. You come out, and you don’t really know why you were there.
We don’t always understand how He is leading us and why we are going a certain way. I have found that to be true. Some of it’s just by faith, “There was a reason for that. I’m just not sure what it was.” That’s Job’s wife.
Evan: Diane, I wish I could [laughs] ask you so much more.
Diane: I wish we could live another hundred years.
Evan: Could go on for another several hours.
Diane: I hope heaven is this way, where we sit around talking.
Evan: Wouldn’t that be great?
Diane: Why wouldn’t it be?
Evan: Why wouldn’t it?
Diane: What do we enjoy here on Earth, talking, looking, and finding answers, where did the Cherokee really come from and to really know what Job, Job’s wife, and the three friends thought.
Evan: When I look at it slant, so to speak…
Evan: I think I’m grateful that we have the opportunity to imagine into those open, dark, cold spaces and find some common ground to stand on together.
Diane: That’s a good ending.
Evan: Thank you very much for all of your time and all of your work.
Diane: You’re welcome.
Evan: It’s a delight to know you.
Diane: [laughs] Same to you.
Evan: “The Table Audio” is hosted by me, Evan Rosa, and is produced by the Biola University Center for Christian Thought, which is sponsored by generous grants from the John Templeton Foundation, Templeton Religion Trust, and the Blankemeyer Foundation.
Theme music is by The Brilliance, production and engineering by the Narrativo Group, more info at narrativogroup.com, edited and mixed by TJ Hester.
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