Volume 15 Number 1
Volume 15, Number 1
|Table of Contents||Headwaters|
Sarah M. Wells
In the keynote address of the second annual River Teeth Nonfiction Conference, Scott Russell Sanders encouraged the audience of over eighty to write about where they are. “Your place probably needs your art,” he said, adding, “We only take care of what we love.” With those words, Sanders launched the writers in the audience into a weekend of nurturing their craft through panels on research, reflection, reporting, shaping narrative, and more, so that we might all be better equipped and inspired to write about the things and places we love. Read More...
But beets are young, have only known one spring, one summer, one early fall, perhaps also one winter passed inside in a dark, dry box. So what could each ring represent? Each season? Each snap of cold? Each grub that has burrowed blindly around the beet's girth in the cool black soil?
It makes me less serious to think about how much happens, silently, under my feet.
|“Playfulnessness: a Note”|
Thesis: the essay is the widest fattest most generous open glorious honest endlessly expandable form of committing prose not only because it cheerfully steals and hones all the other tools and talents of all other forms of art, and not only because it is admirably and brilliantly closest to not only the speaking voice but the maundering shambling shuffling nutty wandering salty singing voices in our heads, but also because it is the most playful of forms, liable to hilarity and free association and startlement, without the filters and mannered disguises and stiff dignity of fiction and poetry and journalism, respectively.
|“Labyrinth of Water”|
Candles burn for the dead, for the battle lost. They burn for the living. They burn across my mantel, a line of candles to guide Evelyn to where she is going and to bring me some remnant of hope.
It’s All Hallows’ Eve, the first of the three days for memory, honor, and prayer, and the candles burn to hold light against the encroaching darkness. On this ancient night the Celtic people believed that the barrier between our world and the next world thins, and the living and dead can dimly see and communicate with each other. I go outside into the blackness of the backyard, stand in the slim, veiled light of a gossamer moon, and peer into the ocean of constellations, hoping that Ev is finding her way through, that she can see me, and that I might feel her close.
Most afternoons as a child, I would sit cross-legged and rest my chin on my bedroom windowsill and watch the world in front of me. The windowsill was chipping, and my picking at it didn’t help. The panel at the base was even beginning to bend from my leaning on it. On rainy days I was hypnotized. The tiny metal strings of the screen took in moist soil and the cool aroma of the cypress tree that stood alone in the back yard. Billions of soft putterings and slappings of thin drops trickled on the cement driveway below. Beyond, the smatting of the drops on the maple’s deep green leaves would slip off in an accumulation and slap the ground, completing the rhythm that played so majestically. Except for the rain, these were silent days, days where I learned patience, patience for a dream.
| “Someone Else” |
By the time I was fourteen, my family was accustomed to my absences—wandering the woods, sleeping in town, eating at other people’s homes. What mattered to my parents were academic grades. I maintained all A’s, an easy task in Appalachia during the sixties and seventies. Of equal importance was granting utter obedience to Dad, and never causing my mother public embarrassment. With this veneer of civility thus attended to, I was free.
|"An Interview with Chris Offutt"|
JM: What are you working on now?
|“'Proper Names Are Poetry in the Raw': Character Formation in Traumatic Nonfiction” |
Daniel W. Lehman
|As literary nonfiction has shouldered its way into the longstanding generic trinity of fiction, poetry, and drama, writers and theorists have argued about what sorts of allegedly truthful narratives quality as nonfiction. Last year, these intermittent squabbles about classification broke into open war with the publication of The Lifespan of a Fact, in which essayist John D’Agata, a professor in the University of Iowa nonfiction writing program, sparred with an exacting fact-checker named Jim Fingal, who was probing the facticity of D’Agata’s essay about teenager Levi Presley’s suicidal plunge from the observation deck of the Stratosphere Tower in Las Vegas. Their debate ranged from the mundane to the vital. For example, D’Agata admitted that he changed the color of a pink dog-grooming van to purple, explaining, “I needed the two beats of purple, so I changed the color. I don’t think it’s that big a deal” (39). More seriously, D’Agata conceded that he altered the actual suicide of an unrelated Las Vegas victim from jumping to hanging “because I wanted Levi’s death to be the only one from falling that day. I wanted his death to be more unique” (18). Ultimately, Fingal proved that many of the surreal events that D’Agata said happened the day that Levi Presley died did not, in fact, happen at all—or at least not the way that D’Agata had essayed. Read More...|
It’s quiet on the glacier—and not the good kind of quiet. It’s the long quiet—the quiet that splits you open, leaves you flayed.
On my mother’s twenty-second birthday, her parents told her she was engaged. She had met her fiancé once before, when my dad, accompanied by his dad, visited her home and spoke to her for about fifteen minutes. Two months later, they held hands for the first time and exchanged their wedding vows in a tiny village church in South India.
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One evening in 1990 between the shrimp bisque and country-fried steak, my mother decided it was time to leave my father. It was four years after my brother’s death at age twenty-five; the decision was sudden, but not rash. Something about Dad’s necktie, the pattern? Or maybe the meal itself: the washed-out color of the bisque, the steak pounded thin. She saw herself reflected on the plate.
|“Destination Jim Crow”|
|Ruby had her way. Her child would not be reared in a place where black people were lynched. My mother, Ruby Laura Madison, was born in 1918 on the “colored” side of Elgin, a small town in Texas. She and her two brothers, John Jr. and Mack, grew up in a two-bedroom frame house. Fewer than twenty feet separated the back door from the back fence. At least a dozen chickens strutted about the yard, and three huge hogs lolled beside a weather-beaten feeding trough. The blackland prairie soil was always velvety and dusty, even minutes after a rain, and littered with weeds and chicken feed. Hoes, shovels, picks, rakes, pitchforks, and hatchets leaned against the house, the fence, and the trough. A railroad track stretched behind the back fence. Past the front porch, two rows of nearly identical homes, separated by narrow strips of dry grass, faced each other along the dirt road.|
|I last saw my father eight months before his suicide. He stood in the Spokane airport, beneath the ramp that led to the security checkpoint, looking up at the monitor that lists arrivals and departures. He wore gray slacks, black oxfords, and an old wool peacoat over a stretched-out T-shirt. A worn duffel hung from his shoulder. It was the size of a small gym bag and carried everything he had needed for five nights. He wore clear glasses with wire rims that he’d owned as long as I could remember. They were usually his back-up pair. He wore sunglasses most of the time to obscure his cloudy shrapnel-blinded left eye. His hair, going gray, needed a cut and sprang from his head. He looked a bit dazed, widening his eyes, regaining his composure to make the trip south to his home in California. His shoulders curved forward as they always did, a posture he took on when he learned to use wooden legs after losing his own in Vietnam. I stand with this posture, too. |
A turkey vulture is a perfect creature. It is neither prey nor predator. It exists outside the typical food chain, beyond the kill-or-be-killed law of nature, although without death it would starve. On six-foot wings it floats above our daily lives, waiting for the inevitable moment that will come to each of us, to every living thing. Then the vulture transforms these transformations—these deaths—into life.
|“The Softball Girl”|
|I was working at a little twice-a-week, covering the big airport and also hair-salon openings, when one day the sports editor asked if I wanted to play softball. I had little else to do on Wednesday nights, and so I said yes. I saw right away that we weren’t any good but I found that my arm had held up pretty well and so they had me hit leadoff and play left, where all the fly balls went. Every Wednesday night that summer, we played on a rundown field behind an ancient mental hospital. I chased down flies and knocked out my share of base hits. I’ve never been what you’d call a fast runner, but on that team, I had wheels, as my brothers would say. I was twenty-five.|