coming home

coming home

Erin Oakley


every night when the trains come home to roost

i walk across the bridge and pull out my phone.


it's sleek and uncovered

unlike the disposable cameras you kept in the house

to capture photos of clouds across the pasture


just the other day i wondered what i would tell you

about my life at thirty


a list: i am afraid sometimes, i use a cast iron skillet to make my cornbread, i try to make you proud, i like walking under the trees, i'll plant a garden this spring, i'm pretty damn good at making biscuits


i am


woman, just like you

i try to make things fun, you see

the way you did


my throat catches when i sit, listen to your wizened sons

tell jokes, sometimes off color

and your daughters' and granddaughters' hands fish out their favorite recipes

we gather for a moment, the swell of thanksgiving stories hitting its annual crescendo with the laughter over one or seventeen jokes about you and papa


i take out my phone, a recording device, i listen to the sweet tea sounds of my elders' voices sharing their stories. my heart catches in my throat and i close my eyes to savor the pecan pie, the legacy


next time i cut an apple i think about your apple slices spread out in the sunshine,


i think about your levity, how audrey said that even hoeing a row in the garden was fun

because 'mama made everything a game'


i walk outside on thanksgiving and see your house, i drive by the old farmstead and listen to james taylor singing copperline, i'm hopeful


i've always wondered what practical jokes you would have pulled on me, would you understand or even try to understand this city life that i live or maybe, would i walk across the bridge, pull out my phone, and send you a picture of the clouds colored pink and gold in the sunset over Atlanta, and

just how would you respond


for my great grandmother addie, in the month of my thirtieth birthday




Are You My Mother

At times it felt like a never-ending “Are You My Mother” story, me the small bird and the different faith traditions and congregations I visited a dog, a cat, a cow, a crane. I visited Mennonite churches, accepted baked bread from a kind soul who would become a good friend, went on retreats with peace loving people, sat by fires and washed dishes. I listened to the parting words of the female Baptist minister and the organ music of the United Church of Christ with its breathtaking glass windows. I sat with my grandmother in her tiny Sunday School class and sang four part harmony with the non-instrumental worship of the Church of Christ. I meditated. I prayed the prayers of high church and found comfort in liturgy. I walked the woods with my spiritual director, and with my friend who will soon be a spiritual director. I sat through Monday Night Meetings and read Sue Monk Kidd’s The Dance of the Dissident Daughter. I left church and read Barbara Brown Taylor’s tale of her similar journey.

I connected with Buddhists and Baptists and atheists. I poured out my grief with women in a sacred circle, honoring the seasons and our collective strength.

I revere the moon. My soul feels safest when I’m nestled into the woods of Yonah, when I am sitting by the lake at Arabia. But still, I sought. I maintained, and whispered, and discussed, and dare I say – prayed over – the return to communal worship. For every time I sat in a seat in a church, moved to tears but terribly uncomfortable, I wondered – why am I doing this? It was like I was playing a decade-long game of Guess Who, describing physical and spiritual characteristics of the community I wanted,  slamming down the others with a decisive plastic ‘thwap’ and seeking further still.

I moved through romantic relationships during this time, the characteristics of that journey ironically mirroring my demands for a faith community. Do I feel comfortable with you, or just uncomfortable enough? Do you make me feel safe? Do you hold space for me? Can I commune with you, and do you greet me with a hug? Am I invested in your growth, and you in mine? Can we struggle side by side with these questions? How do you show up in the world? How do you treat your neighbor?

Ultimately, timely, surprisingly, I found myself in a seat at a New Church, a United Methodist Church, the denomination of my grandparents. It was the warm greetings and the coffee with pastors that hooked me. It was the mess. All of these first dates were powerful enough to make me return. The building, almost completely in disrepair, reminded me of home in a way that no other physical building in my environment does. Its stacks of hymnals and musty fellowship hall disarmed me.

I’m still scared, and awkward, and skeptical. I shake when I enter the sanctuary and feel untrusting, like I don’t know how to act in a church. I don’t. I know how to act in the woods. I know how I used to act in church. I know how to act on a first date. But as I become more authentic and more confused, I shed the know-how. I shed the confidence. I open myself up into the mystery of something that feels like using my non-dominant hand. I’m still asking ‘are you my mother?’ and I’m finding that the ASKING is the thing. The search is the thing. The awkwardness is the thing.














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