Gradient

Gradient

This morning a man jumped his car over a curb and emerged—silent, stoic, a phantom, someone said, he was so ghostlike as he moved—to stab eleven people with a cleaver. The man I love more than any other sat in his Yiddish Literature classroom, one building over from the stabbings, where just a week before...
Math Lesson

Math Lesson

In the box of unsent cards my parents have kept to mark a family’s life, I find “Congratulations on Your New Addition!” Chosen no doubt for the next child who would arrive, the next name to stitch onto the quilt that hangs on the wall above my father’s chair, thirty-three names now, grandchildren and great-,...
After Losing 113 Pounds, Diet Alone is Not Enough to Keep the Weight Coming Off

After Losing 113 Pounds, Diet Alone is Not Enough to Keep the Weight Coming Off

So I ask Robert, the trainer who lives next door, what the neighbor rate is on a workout, and he teaches me to squat with my heels on the ground, to crunch with one leg bent high above my waist. He wraps my hands in tape and teaches me to stand with one foot perpendicular...
Leili in the Doorway

Leili in the Doorway

Light from Leili’s bedroom illumined the far end of the dormitory hallway. I hesitated. She would be waiting, just as she was each Thursday night, my duty night at Beau Soleil, a boarding school in the Swiss Alps, where I taught English and my husband taught mathematics. “Malinka,” Leili called me. “Little one.” She grinned...
Xenia

Xenia

They brought food on Tuesdays because my mother’s chemotherapy happened on Mondays. Later, when my mother was regularly hospitalized, they rang the bell on Thursdays too. Their hands balanced hot lasagna, cold vegetables, yeasty bread that made bright steam in the dark winter air. They brought pork roast, beef roast, squash, potatoes. They brought their...
Everything is Relative

Everything is Relative

Earth in True Perspective, it promised. It was just another meme I clicked while eating breakfast, another instance in the history of fingertips finding meaning among unknown stars—Sirius and Pollux, Arcturus and Betelguese, Eta Carinae and Nebula—and with each click, the scale image of Earth was reduced to a gemstone, then a pinprick, then just...
Shower Songs

Shower Songs

When we were twenty-three, I gave my twin brother a shower for the last time. “Lift with your legs,” my mother always said, but I never did. My brother Danny also had an electric lift, a hydraulic crane that cradled him in the air, but I never used it. I stood over his bed, wedged...
Letter to Marjorie

Letter to Marjorie

Dear Marjorie, I’m on the floor in our spot by the window playing cards with your ghost. I had such nightmares about us last night. Buildings all over the earth were shedding their clothes. It kept raining metal and glass, drywall and bricks, until all that was left was a skeletal world of I-beam steal....
Lick

Lick

What is already history: Waking in the dark. Dressing in the dark. Reviewing the checklist of things to remember. Driving on icy roads. Unloading the luggage, kissing goodbye. Showing identification, checking bags. Removing coat, removing shoes, watch, jewelry. Aimless browsing in airport shops, hoping a snack might look appealing at 6 a.m. or a magazine...
Summer Missionary

Summer Missionary

With our third foster baby I begin dreaming of bruised women, women I have to help up the stairs, their egos battered, terrible mothers, until I notice that they are not the birthmothers, they are me. I think of something the church people used to say when I was growing up: be grateful for what...
Consciousness

Consciousness

Quick as a cut, darkness came to the afternoon, to the nursery where I sat cross-legged on the floor, a white raft of a blanket under us. My newborn sucked her fingers while clumped in the crooks of my arms. We both squinted toward the window, trying to make sense of it all: the sudden...
Dog’s Search for Meaning

Dog’s Search for Meaning

I grab the walker and pull myself out of bed. I rub the six-inch surgery scar on my back and test my feet on the hardwood floors. They work today. The room is too quiet. The dog bed is empty. I walk to the living room and scan the back yard for Sheldon. He is...
Crossings

Crossings

When Mom got sick I quit my job and moved back West, where the wide roads were choked with cars and no combination of busses and trains could get me from the neighborhood of old bungalows and new construction sites to the big hospital north of town in under two hours. Denver had exploded while...
Ode to Me

Ode to Me

1 It’s true, in certain instances, I am better than others. I’m better than people who start their sentences with “no offense.” I’m better than people who don’t like many kinds of vegetables. I’m better than people who do not properly greet the mailman, even though given the chance, he will get your phone number...
The End of a Story

The End of a Story

Lately, there has been a barred owl in the park across the street. Walking the dog after work, we noticed him on the ground. When he saw the dog, he spread his wings, mottled brown and white, and swooped up into a tree. He perched himself on a branch, looking down at us as we...
Wings

Wings

It is the early eighties, the start of the civil war in El Salvador, and Maira is a child of the raindrops that come early in the summer. Thousands of raindrops. Maybe millions. Las lluvias. Desperate raindrops that smash into the mountains and the treetops, prod the soil and also the pebbles and flores, the earth forced...
The Lunch Lady and Her Three-Headed Dogs

The Lunch Lady and Her Three-Headed Dogs

I raise my arm to write on the chalkboard, and the skin draped over bone and muscle swings in contrapuntal melody. I am ashamed to be caught in the act of living in skin. I hope my students are not hypnotized by the distracting motion. I hope no one sees this hammock of flesh and...
Toledo, Ohio 1977

Toledo, Ohio 1977

Fried chicken and sweet potato pie. Blatz beer on our father’s breath. That autumn Michael and I bagged leaves and burned weed with Anthony, walking house to house with a rake, ringing the doorbell and not running. He taught us how to ask for what we would be owed. We raked and mowed the small...