Advent Lights

The highways that snake down and around rural Iowa are dark. Enough that, if you are driving at the right time of night, and there isn’t a lot of traffic, you can catch moments of brilliance in the sky. Stars forever. An impossibly deep night. The opportunity to take a breath. My wife and kids were asleep, which isn’t uncommon. They share a gene that seems to be activated by getting into a car and travelling for more than an… Read more

Poetry Friday: “Scale”

As I read and re-read this poem, I enjoy noticing exactly when I’ve realize that it’s about the speaker’s pregnancy. If I know that “linea nigra” in the second verse is the dark line that appears on a pregnant belly from belly button downwards, then I’ve already caught on. If I don’t know this, I start suspecting the poem’s subject in verse three’s “germinal dark.” But who, still, is the “you” who begins to be addressed here? For me, it… Read more

The Cost of Writing the Truth

I remember my mother used to go to bed for the day. The blackness of her mood seemed to darken her room. I don’t know why she left her door open. Maybe she knew, even in her unresponsive state, that she needed to be able to hear us. Maybe she thought it would be less frightening for us if we could see her. She was wrong. She loved us, but she was wrong. We learned not to talk to her…. Read more

The Optics of Illusion

Ross told the kids to stare at the splotchy red and blue picture and wait. A dozen elementary-school students tried to sit still long enough to just look. The image could have been a representation of Claude Monet’s last sight of his breakfast nook. Color without definition, intensity without concreteness, depth without distance. For some time, the kids squirmed in their seats, not “getting it,” and then at last one, then another, began to shout, “It’s doing something!” and “It’s… Read more

What Keeps Me From You

What keeps me from you: a meeting with human resources. What keeps me from you: I slept through the night to the dream of shopping. For a board. With wheels. Low to the ground. Lower than other boards. Lower to the ground than most kids. You can skate, you can roll, but you can’t fall. It’s almost impossible to lose your balance. Designed for an adult like me: stuck in a dream of youth. I slept all the way to… Read more

The Chopin Stitch

In a recent New York Times interview, pianist Steven Osborne discussed the strange experience of playing Olivier Messiaen’s composition “Vingt regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus,” strange because the twenty movements are entirely different creatures changing shape when experienced with different senses. The first movement, “Regard du Père,” comprises simple chords that build harmonic complexity interspersed with Messaien’s predilection for semiquavers, sixteenth notes with a dainty name that belies their barbarism. A semiquaver feels to me like someone reaching into my adrenal glands… Read more

Poetry Friday: “Saint Francis Appears at the Scene of an Accident, Then Joins the Murmuration”

Reflecting on a strange or disturbing story as a distant narrator can often have a lasting impact. This poem by Becca J.R. Lachman is eerie and curious—it may or may not have actually happened but her storytelling is powerful. From the title we know there has been an accident. We also are asked to “Imagine the night, the boy, the stallion,/all of them closing in, loose/for the first time in months.” Every other stanza holds a rich chain of words… Read more

A Tradition Without Tryptophan

November is always an interesting time for a family of vegetarians. While my three children have never lifted turkey to their lips, they’ve come home from school with a multitude of smiling birds cut out in the shapes of their hands, illustrated plates labeled peas, potatoes, and turkey, and all manner of pilgrims and Indians sitting before bulbous, crayoned drumsticks. My children have also studied the confusingly whimsical psychology of turkeys facing certain death, a standard subject in contemporary childhood cinema and song…. Read more

Fargo: The True Story

This is a true story. Those are the words that have begun every episode of the television series, Fargo, for the past three seasons. The events that took place occurred in Minnesota and the Dakotas during 2006, 1979, and 2010—or so the writers say. The names have been changed in deference to the living, but all else is presented just as it happened—out of respect for the dead. Of course, in a literal sense, not one word of that is… Read more

The Night I Read Flannery O’Connor’s College Journal

I am. This is not pure conceit. My tea (Irish Breakfast, decaf, as it’s nearly 9 p.m.) is still warm, thankfully—I’d left it in the kitchen to steep, knowing full well I’d forget it once I checked my phone, remember it once I’d scrolled through apps long enough to be disgusted with myself, and wonder how much I might have done with my life had Twitter never been invented. I must pray. I attribute everything I have done to prayer…. Read more

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