Essays

“Rather than mapping the known world, as geographic exploration does, discoveries about the relationship between space and time magnify our perception of what we don’t know. Knowledge is infinite. When we glimpse the expanse of what’s unknown, the wormhole of imagination can be an insufficient processor.”

-from “Space Tourism in Modern Storytelling” published in Electric Literature

***

“When it comes to managing infections, civil liberties often compete with community programs focused on the wellbeing of the masses. The kinds of choices most Americans take for granted—whether to disclose a medical condition, for example—can quickly vanish as medical knowledge and public fears shape new policies.”

-from “The Public Is Us” in Guernica

***

“Six weeks after our wedding, my husband and I were flying back to New Orleans, where we live. As soon as we reached cruising altitude, his head tilted forward in sleep.

The previous year had been the hardest stretch of his medical training. As a third-year resident in internal medicine, he often worked 30-hour shifts. When he came home, he’d still have notes to dictate. I’d frequently find him snoozing in an armchair with the light still on. A few hours later, he’d wake and go back to work.

“I’m trying to survive,” he told me when I complained about how work consumed him. “I’m doing the best I can.””

-from “Is there a Doctor in the Marriage?” in the NYTimes Modern Love Column.

***

It’s the first week of the poetry unit in my introductory creative writing class. “Raise your hand if you wrote poems in high school,” I say. Over half the class holds up an arm. “Keep your hands up if you wrote because you were angry. I’m talking poems about unfair expectations, poems about mean friends and unrequited crushes, poems about injustice.

Without exception, the hands stay up.

“Poetry was like ventilation for me,” one girl confesses.

A few students in the class shake their heads. They are here for the prose. They took this class despite the poetry. Poetry, they long ago decided, is not for them. I want these students to give it another shot.”

-from “Gone from My Heart: Violence and Anger in the Poetry Workshop” at VIDA: Women in the Literary Arts.

***

“On January 9, 2014, American Water warned 300,000 customers in and around Charleston, West Virginia, that local tap water was no longer safe. Ten thousand gallons of 4-Methylcyclohexane Methanol (MCHM), a chemical used to clean coal, had leaked from a rusty holding tank into the Elk River, upstream of the water treatment facility. State officials warned that exposure to the licorice-scented solvent could cause “burning in throat, severe eye irritation, non-stop vomiting, trouble breathing or severe skin irritation such as skin blistering.” Given the paucity of information on MCHM’s effect on the human body, no one could predict the long-term consequences of exposure.”

-from “The Politics of Drinking Water,”  at The Atlantic.

***

“If you don’t help him, he’ll die,” Mrs. Stafford said, tapping my cluttered intake desk. We were sitting in an office at Hudson Outreach, a small non-profit in upstate New York. It was June of 2005, and I was the caseworker on duty.

-from “The Heart You Save Won’t Be Your Own,”  at Guernica.

(selected by Longreads for Best of WordPress Vol. 2)

***

In the lullaby “Hush Little Baby,” a singer tries to quiet a child by promising to give her a slew of new things. “Papa’s gonna buy you a mocking bird,” she croons, “And if that mocking bird don’t sing / Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.” The transaction is desperate. Rewards are offered, and rejected, in exchange for silence. It’s a moment that makes parents cringe in recognition. If the diamond ring “gets broke,” the baby is offered, depending on the version sung, a billy goat, a looking glass, a cart and bull, a dog named Rover, or a scraggily ole mutt. New gifts replace old gifts, but each one fails to console. The verses go on. The baby does not hush.

The American approach to environmentalism is, in many ways, a lot like “Hush Little Baby.”

-from “Papa Can’t Buy You A Brand New Earth at Public Books.

 ***

As a plot device, the pregnancy test provides endless opportunities for misinformation and dramatic comedy.

-from “The Pregnancy Test as Plot Device” at The Atlantic

***

“Ole Miss has the prettiest women in the world,” a fellow MFA bragged. “They come for their M.R.S. degrees.”

-from an essay on the poet Beth Ann Fennelly, at Literary Mothers. 

***

“When you have someone to hate, there’s little impetus for self-reflection. Life falls into easy categories. ”

-from “Suspecting the Smiths”  in The Oxford American. 

***

“The guitar rang raw. I thought of rusty farm equipment, the sound a stick makes when it’s trailed across the curved tines of a drag harrow.”

– from “Black Nanny and the Tale Dragger: Remembering T-Model Ford”  in The Oxford American.

***

“We were playing capture the flag for our nation’s future, and for a split second, we were having so much fun, we thought we were winning.”

–from  “The Pleasure (And Privilege) of Indignation”  in The Rumpus. 

***

“We venture through a long row of food vendors: Men of Hope hawk corn dogs and balloons from a lavender cinder block structure, the Drama Club makes shrimp tacos (hard and soft), and the Horticulture Club specializes in Spicy Cajun Chicken Necks. The Lifers Association offers snowballs.”

— from “Sunday at the Angola Prison Rodeo” written with Elizabeth Kaiser and published in The Rumpus.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s