Essays

The Calamity Prayer

Go West, young man: the first commandment of American dogma, and the last. Lewis and Clark heeded it in 1804, Kerouac and Cassidy in 1947. On foot or horse or motorcycle, in steamboat or convertible, we the people, as a people, chase the setting sun. Though the West has long been won (its native inhabitants slaughtered, . . .

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Transition: The Renaming of Hope

I will miss Anne, with the well-placed e and easy shape. Steep climb, perfect point, and the slide into the runout of three short, round letters. The way the letters smooth across the page in a tiny creek of repeat, nn, and slip into silence. . . .

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The Trouble with Ceremony

 

My grenadier, Specialist Taylor, did not attend our welcome home ceremony at the Marriott Hotel and Convention Center in Coralville, Iowa, because in the hour preceding the event, as we waited outside the hotel and as our families gathered in the big hall, his appendix burst.

The day was a nice one, . . .

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All Lines of Order

The Boquillas Trail is located in a remote corner of Big Bend National Park in Texas. It begins with several long steps sloping gently upward, followed by a number of shorter, steeper steps which veer out of sight to the left. The gravelly sand of each step is held in place by a half-buried log, . . .

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Hell and Reason

In February 1943, as a boy just shy of his eighteenth birthday, Charles Fisk wrote home to his parents in Massachusetts: “The work I am doing means nothing to me. That is, I don’t understand what the object of it is. Of course, the principle of the whole thing is secrecy, . . .

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On Slaughter and Praying: An Essay in Two Parts

Part One. Before Getting to My Desk 

Before getting to my desk this morning I’ve woken to the back of Luke’s spine in blue light and understood for the first time that is the image I have been dreaming of after working the “I” entirely out of a poem that didn’t need it. . . .

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The Slow and Tender Death of Cockroaches

In my beginning is my end.

—T. S. Eliot, “East Coker”

 

I always find them alone. Laid on their backs and clawing at the ceiling, like they were still falling from a too-high place. I find them on the shelf next to the dishware. . . .

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Silent Dancing

We have a home movie of this party. Several times my mother and I have watched it together, and I have asked questions about the silent revelers coming in and out of focus. It is grainy and of short duration, but it’s a great visual aid to my memory of life at that time. . . .

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Russell and Mary

1.

A few years ago, as sometimes happens to young people paying cheap rent in Brooklyn, I found myself suddenly driven from my apartment and furiously looking for a new one. This was February 2000, and rents were rising fast. After two weeks of panicked searching, I nearly settled in the windowless attic of an antique store on Atlantic Avenue, . . .

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Sam & Louis

On or about 12 April 1888, a gaunt Scottish man, recovering from a “sharp attack” of tuberculosis at Saranac Lake, in rural New York state, wrote to his favorite American author, then resident in Connecticut. “I shall be from Thursday next for about a week in the St. Stephen’s Hotel, . . .

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Beautiful Flesh

A bird’s pancreas looks very much like ours does, slim along the intestine. Nearly every creature with a backbone has a pancreas, lungfish and lamprey eels and ray-finned fishes being notable exceptions. In mammals, the organ is always small, shown in anatomical drawings peeping from behind the stomach or duodenum of the lion, . . .

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