Story Boy

This is sixth grade.  We’re in that dim little hallway outside the closet-sized room where they sell popsicles during recess.  The big boys are teasing me, but it’s friendly bullying that I don’t mind.  They’re asking me leading questions.  They just want to get me started. Okay, I’m eleven years old, very hormonal, both smart...

Small Love Letters

“Cleopatra’s nose, had it been shorter, the whole face of the world would have been changed.” —Pascal, Pensées I. The real history of the world happens in small ways because it concerns the history of love, itself a series of small events. A glance might shift the order of everything, move the heart into open...

Intro to Creative Writing

Professor Stevens dislikes donuts; the icing gets stuck in his beard. Fridays he breakfasts at Burger King before heading out to the lake, where he smokes cigarettes on the shore and ignores his wife’s phone calls. He idolizes James Dickey. He’s no good at fiction. The Department Chair’s out to get him. He strolls into...

Little Things

My mother’s dollhouse has become a constant reminder of something—what?—in the time we spend with her, if it could be said to be spent. At eighty-nine she remembers very little. She does not so much talk as chime, like a clock with a surreal burden: Do we have anything to eat for dinner? Yes, chicken....

The Wound

The wound on the horse’s thigh was the size of a discus. Blood ran down his bent leg. It was hard to see in the dark. It was very cold. A stranger had brought the horse over to Teddy’s trailer and said he had been riding that night and had an accident. My brother and...

Diagnosable

It comes at me through the back of the head, down by where my neck splits off, comes slicing through the skin and bone and ligaments and mixing up all the different colors of matter in my brain so it’s finally all grey stuff that hits the inside part of my face like John Henry’s...

Evelyn

Her name is Evelyn. She’s lived in her house since 1960. She was born in 1915 or 1916, near the Nooksack River, which still floods its banks. These are the facts. This is the mystery: a 91-year-old woman and me. She can’t hear me, but I talk with my hands. Evelyn’s surname is also a...

The Palm Reader and the Poet

This happened a couple decades ago, and here is how I remember it:  I meet a girl, a young woman, maybe eighteen, at a poetry reading.  She says she can read my palm.  My lifeline is broken—she noticed as she sat behind me and I rubbed my hand through my hair—so maybe she’d better see,...

Virga

I have looked for you since 1982. It rained the day before. The curbs filled with dirty, driven-through water, and overnight the water filled up with tiny tadpoles. The next day, I made a pole from a stick and tied a bit of string to it. I knelt beside the puddle in my Gloria Vanderbilt...

On Being a Trucker

All the stuff I don’t have to say. How lucky I am. Like “I drive a truck of cheap perfume.” Of canned tomatoes, of cleaning supplies, I’m not sure it matters, or maybe it does in the trucking world: I drive tires vs. I drive milk. Oil  vs. Seafood. Furniture. Toilets. A truck of cars....

Comfort Food

I woo Jeanne’s appetite with her favorite Southern foods. Grits, banana pudding, Miracle Whip, and bologna loaf on white bread. French dressing over cottage cheese. Sausage gravy over biscuits: pallid sauce so thick with grease that the leftovers will congeal, gray and lumpy. Tomorrow I will reheat them to mash over her toast. When she...

A Stranger at Dusk

Looking out the window of our front room at dusk that chilly day in the spring of my twelfth year, I saw a tall man weaving toward our front door. I was intrigued not only by his peculiar gait but also by the fact I did not recognize the man.  Strangers were rare in the...