The day's first email -- subject line: "Confidential." A kid in crisis is bravely getting some help. Looking up from the email, I see her come in like it's just another day -- which, I guess, it is. Still, every word & gesture becomes a sign, a warning. If you or someone you love needs help, please know that there are resources out there. This is a kind of tanka poem. Sorta.
Far down the page -- past news of war, past opinions & perfume ads, past covid charts & thinkpieces (this one about arctic penguins) -- "Rain Boots We Love". And I recall: It's April now ... spring has returned. I saw it just today, parking under budding trees -- a sky grey with the promise of that patter that redirects human focus. And tomorrow all of the girls will reach way back in their closets for the right shoes. Pulling bootstraps over bare legs, toes & soles gleam wet & bright with long awaited rain, finally just underfoot. This was written in response to a challenge to compose a poem based on a news item.
I was the first in my line because I was the shortest boy.
Across the aisle, Claudia was at the head of a long line of girls in white, veiled & serene, palms pressed in prayer. Two by two, we received the Body of Christ & returned to the pews, solemn, sacramental. Later, a man leaned over me, his hand on my shoulder. "Now you're one with God." I thought I already was. This one is another cherita.
Those Who Knew isn’t the kind of story you’d call sweeping, but it is. In a taut novel, Idra Novey creates the broad gaze of a brutal history, both political & personal, shifting between perspectives & characters, genres & times. You open the book on an unnamed island with characters who have inherited much from a brutal regime: Lena, the granddaughter of juice manufacturers & upper-class supporters of Cato (the now deposed brutal ruler); Olga, the former political prisoner mourning the loss of her beloved S. and now running a bookstore slash weed business; Victor, a former student protestor become senator, with a history & a tendency for violence; Freddy, his brother, a playwright recollecting & interrogating the role of his family in the suffering of the country.
Novey moves between Freddy’s scripts (all thinly veiled political criticism against his brother), Olga’s transaction log (all lovesick attempts to keep S. alive in her heart), and a more traditional narration. The novel moves forward in two big shifts—the now of Part I, resolving in 9/11; Part II, six years later when some figures have had children; and Part III, where several characters must confront choices & realities that have merely weighed on them up until now. There are business fortunes & romantic fortunes, political campaigns & public relations catastrophes, as well as moral dead ends & restorative second chances. It’s a lot, but it never feels like a heavy or difficult novel.
The resolution is a kind of baptism & escape, one in which bad things happen to bad people and we know why, good things happen to good people and we know why. It’s a really satisfying and rich read. You can read about other stuff I’ve read here.
Once we hit the highway, she said, “I think we should get married.”
Two hundred miles from home. No stops planned. No one else in the car. No way for me to avoid what this lovely girl said.
Three hours, two people, one question: How much longer did I need to know that she was the one? One thing I knew for certain. She knew how to pick the right moment -- and for her, the right guy.
This is a cherita, that is, a six-line poem that consists of three stanzas — one line in the first stanza, two in the second, & three in the third.
A match aflame is held aloft. Fire focuses the eye, the mind. But these eyes aren’t a match. A flame won’t catch these eyes, any of them. The field once green, now roaring from a match, a flam- ing horizon. Make a wish. Then a quick escape. Behold, beware a match aflame. This poem is my response to a writing challenge--four stanzas of four lines each, four syllables per line, with one line repeated in lines 1, 2, 3, 4 of stanzas 1, 2, 3, 4.
i've underestimated the pleasure of things catalogued, things put in place. to know that we agree "this is a badger. this is not not a badger" satisfies like a well built chair. rest & know that we can rest & know, that the cataloguing, the naming can be beautiful, that a name can fit & fit well. we can even refit, replace: firefly. lost love. still life. artwork. plaything. like this girl in her place, still, pale, except the color of life on her mouth, the glistening gaze behind the brittle thicket surrounding, adorning her. the babe in the wood, aflame in twigs, clothed in dried delicate proportion, packaged & shelved, awake & alert to all on the other side of the glass.
I don’t read enough nonfiction, and when I do, it’s usually a first-person memoir. Not a lot of footnotes, not a lot of history — all big ideas & institutions, thorny questions & issues narrowed to the snails-eye view of a single person. I need to grow out of this reading habit, I know. Novelist Alia Trabucco Zerán guided me down a nonfiction path that I don’t often walk.
Her When Women Kill: Four Crimes Retold offers readers like me a powerful & accessible blend of research & reckoning, of storytelling & reporting. Focusing on Chile in the 20th century, Zerán revisits four notorious crimes, notorious not only for the shocking brutality of the murders but also for the way that the brutality challenged contemporary notions of femininity, of wifehood, of sanity, of hysteria.
Throughout each account, Zerán interrupts her accounts for detailed research notes–a look at how the research happened, how librarians react to her curiosity, how she herself unveils her own understandings of her country & herself.
The recurring threads (hysteria as a defense, the misogyny standardized within Chilean law, the deployment of psychology as a way of understanding the crime & shaping the punishment) got me thinking anew about how gendered my lens is personally, as a reader, as a teacher, as a father.
It’s a curious book to be excited about, to recommend, but it’s one that is so varied in its style & focus that if you don’t appreciate, say, the Law & Order aspects of it, you just need to hold on for a few pages before Zerán shifts to a different (equally compelling) writerly lens.
before a melody, a mood, rolling waves of sound, resolution always imminent, all connecting a network of electronic ethereal lines. now the voice— open to dreams, to horizons.
to have and to hold
keep clean, keep communicating, keep being funny & nice
from this day forward
keep the past in the past, keep your jealousy to yourself
for richer or for poorer
max out your 401k, decide who pays the bills and how, share taxes, share accounts, don’t buy anything <$100 without checking in with her
in sickness & in health
exercise, wash your hands, don’t expect thank yous for loading the dishwasher. learn to cook. learn to snack. drink moderately
for better or for worse
you’ll think some wrong & petty things a lot — keep it in your head. learn to make sacred everday tasks, everyday beauties — the smell of her hair, the smoothness of her cheek, the calming & ennobling presence of family, the loyalty she shows friends. the love she gives you unearned
till death do us part
learn to care for her. learn to anticipate her fatigue & her worry. learn to be gracious in the little that you do. one day you’ll be reduced to a body to maintain not a personality to cherish, not a coparent or a partner. one day you’ll need help in ways you can’t imagine, in ways that you won’t notice or recognize. one day it’ll all be over, and you will have lived well thanks to her, thanks to these words today. be happy because you’ll leave her as you found her. beautiful, strong, wise, clear brown eyes, soft skin.
Inspired by Jamaica Kincaid & Lupe Mendez. The title alludes to the wedding vows in a Jewish ceremony–“Ani L’Dodi V’Dodi Li.” Roughly, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine”, from Song of Songs 7:10.