Swerve

I’m sorry about that time I ran over a piece of wood in the road. A  pound of marijuana in the trunk and a faulty brake light—any minute the cops might have pulled us over, so you were edgy already, and then I ran over that piece of stray lumber without even slowing down. Thunk, thunk,...

Somebody Else’s Genocide

After my reading in Atlanta, Georgia, a blond woman asked me, in German-accented English, if my books were translated and published in Germany. “Ja,” I said. I studied German for two years in high school and one semester in college, but I remembered only a few words—abgehetzt, schoner, arschloch—and only one phrase: Ich habe sieben...

Twan’t Much

At the tire repairs factory, I knew a man named Jack who had no teeth, who brought the same thing for lunch every day, a fried egg sandwich in a wrinkled and stained paper bag. He had a family he could barely support, one that didn’t have, as my father often said, “as much as...

This Is Not To Say

So many feelings fit between two heartbeats So many objects can be held in our two hands Don’t be surprised we can’t describe the world And just address things tenderly by name. -Zbigniew Herbert This was supposed to be about the dirt that flies up in puffs between bare feet when the bees are buzzing...

Snakes

It’s 4:40 a.m. in Managua and I’m shivering. I’m waiting in the entryway of the place where I’m staying, waiting for someone to pick me up and take me to interview the country’s young leader, Daniel Ortega. All I’m told is to be ready to run. I’m wearing sneakers, t-shirt and shorts, and I have...

WQED, Channel 13: Programming Guide

6:40 a.m. Sesame Street You have finally fallen deeply asleep after getting up to go to the bathroom—for the third time—at 5:00 a.m.  Your son approaches silently, pats you on the head.  His hand, fingers splayed, fits into your palm.  His patting is gentle and inexorable. You stayed up too late reading a New Yorker...

The Potato Harvest

This is the morning that summer ends. In one hard frost our garden has become an abandoned battlefield, the last vestiges of the living lay stiff and frozen, black wilted zucchini leaves like limp umbrellas stand as pathetic monuments, tattered flags, over what was, only yesterday, a vegetable garden. Potatoes love one heavy frost. It...

Vitamin M

In the Navy, Vitamin M is the cure for all ailments.  Ship medics prescribe extra-strength Motrin, thousands of milligrams, twice, three times the recommended dosage to treat headaches, hangovers, back pain, stiff necks, fever, carpal tunnel, plantar fasciitis, even acne.  My husband, in his nine years of military service, has adapted easily to the ibuprofen...

Pheasant

As I heard the story she liked him but she wasn’t sure, so Gideon-like she asked “Lord, give me a sign,” and just to make sure the deity was authentically involved she said “make it a sign with a pheasant.” The next time Mr. X showed up he opened with “I almost hit a pheasant...

In Case of Emergency

In her left hand she holds the vase he made her, heavy and cool.  His initials are carved in the bottom, deep ridges made of the familiar initials in the painfully recognizable handwriting.  They were there before he proposed, and they still endure even after he dumped her.  There’s a hammer in her other hand,...

Review of Brenda Miller’s Blessing of the Animals

Eastern Washington University Press, 2009 “The dogs are barking. All over Mexico, it seems, dogs are barking, and its 3 a.m. and a crescent moon hangs low in the sky.” With this simplest of details, the opening to one of Brenda Miller’s marvelous essays, I’m transported back to San Miguel de Allende, a cobblestone and...

Back-Form.: Me ‘n’ Those Manuscripts

Edit: back-form. < Editor Conundrums and their cousins form one of the many backdrops to most of our upbringings: Which came first – the chicken or the egg? Don’t put the cart before the horse. Existence precedes essence. Something cannot come of nothing. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, how many pickled...

From Confession to Craft: Memoir as Its Own Reward

Back when I was a third grade geek, wanting badly to be accepted and popular (loved!), I walked home from school one day with Howard U. and Doug Y., past my own house at the bottom of Fellsmere Road and up the hill to Howard’s. We went down to the basement – one of those...

To Blog or Not to Blog? Using the Blogosphere to Shape Narrative Voice

When I was in my second year of graduate school, my favorite mentor, who had been a book editor for more than twenty years, likened my nonfiction manuscript’s narrative voice to a World War II documentary voice-over – which would have been fine if I hadn’t been writing about Nashville songwriters. My main character’s struggle...

Review of The Best American Essays 2009, edited by Mary Oliver

Mariner Books, 2009 I’ll be blunt: the last few years I’ve been pretty disappointed with Best American Essays. There have been a few essays in the collections of the past few years that I thought were worthy of the distinction (ones that I’ll tack up on my mental Wall of Fame), but I’ll chalk that...

Review of S.L. Wisenberg’s The Adventures of Cancer Bitch

University of Iowa Press, 2009 In 1996, I worked as a researcher on Say It! Fight It! Cure It! a documentary on breast cancer made for Lifetime Television. The title, based on the battle-cry slogan of the National Breast Cancer Coalition (NBCC) captured how breast cancer activism had become a political movement. In my work,...

Review of Emmanuel Guibert’s The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders

Translated by Alexis Siegel First Second Books, 2009 At the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, a new work of art, Welkin, hangs. Four painted glass panels fill the passageway between old and new school buildings.  Welkin is made from the same glass used in military vehicles. The manufacturer advertises it as “transparent armor for...