Essays

Bosch in the Burning World

At the joining of the Dommel and the Aa in the southern part of the Netherlands, a town was built and called “Bosch” after its forest. It prospered, rivaling Utrecht. In its churches there was music. In town there was money. The two rivers were combined to make a moat for protection. . . .

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Studies in Darkness

“There’s something about black,” said Georgia O’Keeffe. “You feel hidden away in it.” Louise Nevelson said she fell in love with black: “You can be quiet and it can contain the whole thing.” Somehow this is true for me, but it is also true that the first time I ever felt afraid looking at art was when I stood in front of Francisco de Goya’s Black Paintings. . . .

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Harm’s Way

1.

For years I said nothing.

Silent, I paid close attention to the words that others used.

I heard writers of nonfiction quote the opening sentence of Joan Didion’s essay “The White Album”: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”

I heard writers and readers of all genres say that stories foster empathy. . . .

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Dazzle, Mimic, Blend

Recently, after writing for a long while on World War II, I was exhausted by the subject, which had become a joyless task—as it sometimes needs to be. But then, the Saturday night of Labor Day weekend, my husband and I took our daughters to The Buck, a family-friendly motorsports park fifteen miles outside of Lancaster, . . .

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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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