Volume 15 Number 2
Volume 15, Number 2
|Table of Contents||Headwaters|
Daniel W. Lehman
Fifteen years into this journey, an important thing readers should know about River Teeth is that its two editors once worked at magazines and newspapers where we shaped content and nurtured writers. Hence our love for factual writing that soars in interesting ways. Beyond that, we love clustering great essays and literary reporting into the soul and rhythm of each issue. Though River Teeth is housed at a university and has been adopted as a reading text by nonfiction professors across the country, what we do here is much more than an academic exercise. We prowl for edgy, compelling nonfiction, crafting volumes that regularly make our readers take an extra breath and blink. Read more...
Beavers are the Shiva of the animal world. Who knows how a beaver chooses where to make her pond? But once she does, trees fall like spears of light then overnight disappear, dragged to underwater lairs, or left to float eerie carcasses, every branch and shred of bark stripped clean.
Flat head, lidless eyes, body dirt brown, the Surinam toad slithers through the pond like animated mud, an amphibian golem. Long fingers filter the swamp floor, sweeping fish and worms into a tongueless mouth. Some romantic gave it the alternate title “star-fingered toad,” because after each foot divides into toes, the toes divide again, creating a “star” at the tip. But celestial the toads are not.
|“On Kids and Bombs (Or How To Be a Hummingbird)”|
Providence, Rhode Island, 2005. The rain had been coming down in sheets for nine days straight. Seriously. Seeping through the walls in our basement, leaving puddles beneath the oil tank. We needed to get out of the house and we drove fast, just barely tethered to the asphalt, headed for a movie in Massachusetts, a movie about a giant were-rabbit ravaging the village gardens. The red and green and yellow lights flowered in the moist fog. They twinkled and blinked intermittently with green. It was too much sometimes, too heavy. This place. This moment in time. The white noise of water spray competed with the radio voices. Our three-year-old son blithely chattered away in his car seat, conversing with his invisible friend, Tum-Tum the elephant.
I locked up my cinderblock cottage and drove straight east from New Mexico, outrunning a December snowstorm coming off the Sangre de Cristo Range. Two days later, when I coasted bleary over the Virginia border and saw the familiar line of haze and mountains, I felt something like yearning. I was twenty-three, and hadn’t seen Mom—or anyone else—in two years.
| “What I Learned from a Cockfighter” |
Hundreds of crowing cocks broadcast their territory in a never-ending loop of five notes. A concert of noise that will either drive you mad or set you smiling at nature’s harmonies. And the birds, feathers glistening like bourbon in a glass, black and red and orange, the colors of scandal and sin. They waltz as far as their tethers will allow, their beady bird eyes watching me sideways. I’m out of my element, a city kid in the country, and I step lightly.
"Out of Place"
Birds of prey weren’t new to me. Driving through southern Utah, I’d seen them from the car, sitting on fence posts that had been put up to keep the cattle from wandering onto I-15 and that now provided perches for Red-tailed Hawks. On the way home from Capital Reef one winter, I saw five Bald Eagles, standing as tall as fence posts by the side of the road. On the ground, they were undignified, tearing at a roadkilled deer. But when, in my review mirror, the head of one eagle turned nearly all the way around to make sure I was on my way, its white head eclipsing the thin, exhaust-dirty snow, the eagle made it clear that I had interrupted them. On the side of the road tugging meat was where the eagles were supposed to be. I was the one out of place.
|"Reflections of a Moderately Disturbed Grandfather” |
As the day nears dusk, I watch as my oldest granddaughter runs out of our house toward a car full of other high school kids. The girl behind the wheel—somewhere between sixteen and the rest of her life—is a little overweight, which for some reason comforts me, until I notice she wears the too-thick makeup of a young woman wanting a life she doesn’t yet understand. A boy jumps out of the rustbelt Buick to let Ellie in the backseat. I don’t like the kid right off; I know he can’t be trusted. His movements are too deliberate. He acts as if perpetually aware of a camera. He has too-beautiful hair. He doesn’t even acknowledge my wife or me as we smile miserably from the front porch. I hear the tinkling of an empty can spilling out of the car and hitting our driveway. Assuming it’s a Miller or Bud, I tense; my muscles clench. I then feel the warmth of my wife’s fingers on my arm, which is just enough to keep me still. Ellie tosses us a casual wave over her shoulder and disappears into the Buick, into the world. The world outside of our family and our home has been whispering to her since she was old enough to realize there was something else out there. It beckons us all, of course. But on this day, it echoes with the wail of pain.
But I’m just imagining this. Ellie’s only four years old.
I’m spinning in a circle—five years old—in the backyard of that Amestoy Avenue house. Alone, save for the eucalyptus trees, still young and thin, watching in their soldierly line, and the orange trees, the grapefruit. The walnut tree too, with its fuzzy covered fruits. I’m spinning and spinning, arms flung out wide, feet in dirty red Keds, the lawn dry and almost green.
|“My Heart Is a Piece of Shit”|
|Low light of early evening filters through maple leaves, streams through my son’s bedroom window. He’s sitting on the edge of the bottom bunk. I’m kneeling next to him. He is seven and crying, tears of frustration, or anger, or both. At this point, I’m not quite sure. His hands move around his face, his hair, messy now with sweat and tears. He looks up at me—pale freckled face, one dimple, wet eyes, sandy hair—my son, he looks nothing like me. Through sobs he says, “My heart is a piece of shit.” |
|“Truth, Truthiness, Memory, and Bald-faced Lies—and the Pleasures of Uncertainty”|
Let me start by telling you a secret—sort of a secret, because I’ve mentioned it once or twice before. But it’s not something I talk about very often, because it’s a little bit embarrassing. Maybe more than a little bit embarrassing.
I used to make fun of “creative nonfiction” and mock the people who wrote it. (I could say “gently mock” but I’m afraid that wouldn’t be true.) Fifteen, twenty years ago, here at Ohio State, where I have taught since the late 1980s, it would not have been unusual to hear me say that if we were going to offer courses in “creative nonfiction,” well, then, we ought also to be teaching “creative nonpoetry.”
I couldn’t understand—I would say, whenever I had the opportunity—why any writer would want to be “shackled to the truth”: why he’d want to waste all that good material that might be made use of in a story.
|Memories have no bones or eyelashes. They are not objects in the same way that belt buckles and tree stumps and finch feathers are. They cannot be held like prisoners or evaded like authorities. And though I like to imagine I can marshal my own, memories are biologically unreliable and behaviorally inconsistent.|
|“I Have This Part Right”|
|In the dark of a February evening, people danced in the street. I was maybe eleven years old, watching them through the windshield of my parents’ car. My memory has it all wrong, I know. I was in the front seat with my mom, and we were parked right at the edge of the circle of pavement where people were swinging each other to the music and laughing. Snow collected on their shoulders and in their hair. That can’t be right. Daddy was somewhere else—I picture him in a store, but he had been in there for a long time, engaged in one of the lengthy, rambling conversations that were his trademark. Mom stared hard out the windshield at the people dancing. She was young, in her twenties, and her face was lit only by the dashboard lights. Her long, straight brown hair draped over her shoulders, and her fingers were wrapped around the steering wheel. She was waiting. Was it really snowing? She looked at the crowd, looking for my dad. In the darkness of the car with the engine running, we had the heater on. She said, “He knows I love to dance.” |