Solving for X

Solving for X

She’s never been good at word problems. She remembers hours of agony at the kitchen table, her father trying to help her wrench the variables of time, speed, and distance into manageable equations. “A freight train left San Diego and traveled east at an average speed of 28 mph. A diesel train left one hour...
Aphorisms for a Lonely Planet

Aphorisms for a Lonely Planet

1 When at home I long to travel, on trips I pine for home. Thank you Lord for these twin dissatisfactions, and this vagabond moon blessing my feet. 2 The couple in the Lima Airport entwined under an orange blanket at 2:00 a.m. She plucks rogue hairs from his eyebrows then snuggles closer, all satisfaction,...
Logophobia

Logophobia

One morning I watched—through our ground-level bedroom window—the steps of his work boots, back not thirty minutes after he had left for a new job in town. Fired. I never knew why, and he claimed not to know. He lumbered around unsettled, rewiring our bedroom or checking mystery switches, wrapped in his tool belt, eyebrows...
The Invention of Familiars

The Invention of Familiars

Some things we don’t care to talk about by name. It’s an old problem and one of its consequences has been fiction. Another popular solution is to fill in the gap with an animal. The monks of the middle ages, denying themselves everything a body wants, or lying about it, were the great theologians of...
Bee Man

Bee Man

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is the richness of self.”—May Sarton Mid-April, brutal hot, spring in the Blue Ridge. I’d pedaled twenty miles already, absorbing the pastel colors of emerging redbuds, dogwoods, and tulip poplars. The formidable hill was scorching my quads when the man—white-haired, overalls, rounded belly—called out, “Hey, buddy, want a...
Women These Days

Women These Days

[Compiled and arranged by searching “woman + [verb]” (walking) in national news outlets over the past twelve months] An Ohio woman was shot dead while cooking Thanksgiving dinner; witnesses report that at the time of the shooting, she was standing at a kitchen table, preparing macaroni and cheese. The body of a North Carolina woman...
Louder, Louder

Louder, Louder

Days after my doctor finds a lump on my thyroid, the size of an M&M (peanut he specifies, not plain) a student asks me what the nineties were like. For the nation?   For you, says my student. She is thirteen. Louder, louder, we say to her when she reads her poems because she barely...
Fluency

Fluency

What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open – Muriel Rukeyser We learned English faster than our parents, their tongues too old to take a new shape. Our tongues still coated in milk, this meant we didn’t pray like they did, and God didn’t answer when we...
The Last Phone Call

The Last Phone Call

A month after my brother died, I scrolled through the contact list on his phone and memorized his voice-activated-dialing commands. His cellular plan would lapse soon, the cell provider couldn’t transfer the audio, and I didn’t have equipment to re-record them. So instead, I wept on my screened-in porch and listened to him say each...
A Short Book on Grief

A Short Book on Grief

Murderers weep in their cell over the death of a dog. Dogs stop eating when their person dies. You can’t protect yourself from grief. There is no preparation that prepares. There is no border wall you can build to keep it in or out. No one escapes it, not the very wealthy, not the very...
Hairy Credentials

Hairy Credentials

Summary of Qualifications Nicole is a professional woman who wants to rock her Afro in business settings and still command respect. Her career includes ten years of camouflaging her true self to stay marketable and frying her mane to avoid frightening employers with her real hair texture. The consequences of her cover-up—a bald spot and...
This, the Priority of Life

This, the Priority of Life

One week after the Las Vegas shootings, I am locked inside a dark room at the Cache County Jail. Country music plays from an unseen source. Uniforms hang on pegs, an outdated calendar posted nearby. On a worn pleather couch, I sit with Megs, my partner this week for the meditation classes I help facilitate...
Sunrise

Sunrise

Try not to think about the dog, Jack, the ten-pound mutt that won’t sit still in the back. He’s nervous, jitterbugging from window to window. Feels like trip to the vet. He pauses to bother with a flea. First teeth. Then raking with a hind leg. Then bounding over the gear shifter to check out...
The Mailbox

The Mailbox

The year is 1952. My mother spends her days stitched to a chair and stares out the kitchen window looking for my father, who has been on a drunk for two weeks. She worries he will come home and even though he has lost the front door key, will figure a way to break down...
Salt River, Tide

Salt River, Tide

One evening in the swamp-city where I used to live, at the mouth of a river opening into a salt ocean tide, in an apartment building known for jumpers, the woman upstairs tells me about her pain. We ride the elevator, laundry in our arms. The lift jutters as it passes each floor. Her back...
Meanness   

Meanness  

One: I awoke to my mother’s weeping and walked over the jail bars’ shadow the Venetian blinds made on the kitchen floor. Her chest heaved as she smoked across from me at the table, sobbing about doctor’s bills and my father’s lousy job, how we were going to end up in the poorhouse like she...
Shana’s Father Wins a Monkey

Shana’s Father Wins a Monkey

Our friend Shana… her… father… well, she wasn’t born yet. But her father won a live monkey at a drive-in movie. [Sniff.] No time to talk about the… it’s got too many distasteful details in it … nothing bad happens to the monkey, don’t worry. The monkey dies, but of natural causes at an old...
Survival

Survival

Imperceptibly, the white pine has grown so tall no one can see what’s happening up there. Dirt has mounded at its base, the underside asserting itself: a bulge of the invisible. You can see the tree from far down the lake. It was planted ninety years ago by my father and his brother. They put...