The air was crisp. I felt it on my lips as I took deep breaths, trying to prove my mom wrong. I didn’t need a coat; plus, it would’ve covered up my brand-new Avril Lavigne shirt. I wasn’t waiting for Halloween like the other kids, I never liked it much. I think I was too self-aware at a mere twelve years old.Read more.
“Nana’s Hutch” and “Untamed”
I loved you since I was a small child. We all did. You went to my aunt first.
Then me. Initially there was a little jealousy. My aunt lavishly gave out other
heirlooms to compensate. My grandfather created a special built-in place ~ a cut
out in the dining room wall. You fit there perfectly.
Out Stealing Water
A dozen empty paint buckets rattle in the truck bed as Emily and her two uncles, Dwight and Jay, head west on Van Buren to the ragged edges of downtown Phoenix. Dwight drives, and Jay dangles his arm out the passenger window, his palm spread wide to catch the wind, his feet tapping on the floorboard.Read more.
In the few seconds it took for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the unfamiliar room, the cloud of spiced-chai scent around me had already faded. I slowly turned, taking in the lobby where I had landed. A bar filled half of the room, with worn, dark wood chairs stacked on clean tables, and the only movement was the dust spiraling through a bit of sunlight that slanted across the room.Read more.
Under low light, Zilla’s fingerpads brushed the floor feeling for that telltale groove. When she found it, she took hold firmly and cracked the floorboard away. It had been done many times. It would look the same after.
Here, in a shallow dug hole underneath the cabin floorboards, the wooden box came delicately as if it were made of the dirt around it, as if it crumbled.
“Journey’s End,” “At the Breakfast Table” and “Ode to the Waltz”
The old canoe rests on the sand
at lake’s edge, its stern still
in the water. How many
strokes of the paddle wore away
the varnish on the gunwales?
Many. So many. And years
of sunlight and rain. Years
of snow and wind.
Antidote to Truth
Standing in Tiananmen Square that autumn day in 1998, I marveled at its vastness. The few people populating its more than fifty-three acres seemed like ants on an enormous sidewalk. The square could hold many, many more. Multitudes.Read more.
“Why Our Marriage Works” and “The Widow Sifts Through the Rubble”
You sing songs to the pug in your fake Cantonese
and seem surprised when he doesn’t understand. You make coffee
a party: dark-roasted beans, gleaming French presses, and hand-thrown
mugs plucked from thrift-store shelves.
Circling the Inferno
Sometimes on the train in the morning, Melanie thought about failing to get off at her stop for work. She’d lean her head back on the tweedy headrest and close her eyes. If this was a real train instead of commuter light rail, she’d muse, perhaps she would stay on the train all the way to the next town.
Watch What You Wish For
The snow, real staying snow, just won’t come this winter, and it’s already January. It has accumulated some at times, of course, if more like helpless Styrofoam pellets swept against tree trunks, where they grab at the base as if that’s the height of ambition, then climb even in a weak breeze, then give up and disappear to only God knows where.Read more.
Dora’s Deathbed: First Movement
“I can’t feel a pulse,” Mae says, her rose-lacquered fingertips probing the carotid of her dying friend Dora. Mae’s a just-retired nurse, so what she says carries weight. Even though she’s here in her civilian capacity, like the rest of us, to watch Dora die.Read more.
In the Pines
“Some said she was surrounded by a glow like pale fire. Some said she was wearing a tattered wedding gown, hair wild and bedraggled. Some—teenage boys, mostly—said that she was naked. But none of that was true. She was just ordinary.”
“You saw her?”
“Three Breaths,” “They Come in Rotation” and “He Lies Dying”
1. Here I am
His creased dress-pants hang on bony anatomy:
pelvic brim, iliac crest. Long foreleg ankles without socks.
I don’t know why a Nuer, reputed to walk for days without rest,
measuring the horizon with metronomic femurs and tibia
reminds me of my adolescent father, but he does.
“Gwembe Valley” and “Saliya’s Calabashes”
Valley of the living
Valley of the dead
You call me back to my roots
Here, I can pause & look
I see my people
I see me
Who am I?
I am a part of Gwembe
“No Elegy for Jasper,” “A Day at the Wharf” and “The Giraffe Mural on Harrison St.”
There will be no words,
no tributes, sonnets or verses of consolation,
borrowed from the great poets or philosophers
for an angel called up too soon.
Only the cries of infinite mourning rambles will reach the heavens.
A Father’s Arms
The thermonuclear bomb and I practically share a birthday—that was the first hydrogen fusion device with the power of 800 Hiroshima bombs. They called it the superbomb, the “city killer.” Physicist Enrico Fermi said its “practical effect is almost one of genocide.” I always knew the fear-begotten arms race and I grew up together.Read more.
You have to live somewhere.
But the Woodhills Preservation Tract, a private homeowners association on the outskirt of Hopscotch Mills, N.Y., where every street ends in -wood: Beechwood, Pinewood, Ashwood, Alderwood, Oakwood, Wedgewood, Westwood, Sycamorewood, Hollywood, Gingkowood, and Cedarwood, is a far cry from where Eliza Volk used to live in Manhattan.
Chrissie’s just leaving the office when she sees him standing at the 23rd St subway entrance, looking up at the sky.
When his eyes drift down to meet hers, the jolt of sudden intimacy sends her walking in the opposite direction.
She never took the New York City Subway.
The rest of March was not kind. The wind screamed off the harbor and whipped Nell’s hair from under its pinned hat as she walked to work each day. It seemed an endless series of gray days. She wrote to Mrs. Reilly, but with each day that passed without a reply, her hopes of a response grew dimmer.Read more.
The Hunter Was Late for the Circus
The Hunter avoided public venues, well-traveled roads, and any place where officers might be present. He didn’t want any more incarcerations, DNA tests, or looks of disgust from self-entitled bureaucrats. Running into anyone who would detain him, even if only temporarily, would delay his intended mission. His immediate goal was to track down the circus that had recently entertained the residents of a small Peacelands town near the border.Read more.