Archive Winter-Spring 2020

 

January 3, 2020

 

from Stumbling Into Joy

by Kate Hopper

“It had been her dream since college to create that throbbing sound...”

                                                                                                                              —THE

 

Welcome back! We have a great lineup of authors this year, so please click on the blue button above to receive brief, weekly reminders every Friday of our featured writers. It's free and easy and a great way to keep up with essay and memoir—one paragraph at a time.

 

We begin with one of our favorites, Kate Hopper. She describes herself as a teacher, editor, writing coach, and mother (and wife and daughter and sister and friend…the list goes on and on). She writes memoir, essays, and is currently working on her first novel.  She is the author of Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood, winner of a MIPA Midwest Book Award, and Use Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers, and the co-author of Silent Running: Our Family’s Journey to the Finish Line with Autism.

 

The Paragraph of the Week comes from her longform essay in Creative Nonfiction’s True Story series. It is called Stumbling into Joy and is about the author accomplishing in midlife her dream of leaning to play the bass guitar. Learn more about her book here.—THE

Commentary

 

When Kate Hopper’s family gave her a bass guitar as a mother’s day gift, the author squeezed her husband Donny and their two daughters saying “He bought me a bass! What?” and began jumping around. It had been her dream since college to create that throbbing sound, but life, with its “ups and downs,” as Janelle Monáe sings in “Tightrope,” got in the way—until now at age forty-three. Her daughter, Zoe, pointed to the gift and shouted “Open it.” It took Hopper a while to get the hang of playing her dream—fingerings and tricky rhythms take time to learn—but eventually she could play a “fast and funky bassline” and even perform it in public. Her inspiration along the way was June Millington, lead guitarist with Fanny, the first all-female rock group, who played with “joyful fearlessness” and believed that music took young women “somewhere else, some place where they don’t have to listen to messages the world is beaming at them.” It is “a safe place” where they could hear “something in themselves” which Hopper describes as “the pleasure of residing inside each note” where all at last “makes perfect sense.”

 

—THE

January 10, 2020

 

from “The Lawns, So Well-Tended”

in Terrain.org: A Journal of Natural and Built Environments

by Anna Maria Spagna

 

“Evil demands action not metaphors and the false comfort of subtlety is, like her small-town rental, a temporary indulgence—one she eventually will reject, ‘nuance be damned.’”—THE

 

 

Ana Maria Spagna is the author of seven books including Uplake: Restless Essays of Coming and Going, the memoir/history, Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus, winner of the River Teeth literary nonfiction prize, and two earlier essay collections, Potluck and Now Go Home. Her work has been recognized by the Society of Environmental Journalists, the Nautilus Book Awards, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Awards, and she has four times been a finalist for the Washington State Book Award.

 

The Paragraph of the Week comes from a recent essay called “The Lawns, So Well-Tended” that appeared in the spring 2019 issue of Terrain.org: A Journal of Natural and Built Environments. You can read the complete essay here.

The Paragraph of the Week

 

Talking about weeds and immigrants at the same time is problematic, I know. There’s a decades-long debate about the dangerously interchangeable adjectives—invasive, non-native, alien—and what their use suggests about the need for purity, the impulse to exclude, the crusade to eradicate. But plants and people are not the same, and comparing them is over-simplifying, and over-simplification can over-complicate things. It’s not hard in a garden, or for that matter, in a democracy, to see what’s causing the real trouble. But even when we try to eradicate racism, misogyny, poverty, injustice, here they come, creeping back, insidious as ever.

 

—Ana Maria Spagna

Commentary

 

“The Lawns, So Well-Tended” by Anna Maria Spagna reluctantly finds nuance to be a temporary but ultimately inadequate refuge for sanity in a politically divided time. The essay is ostensibly about her year-long battle with an unruly lawn during a stint as visiting professor in a college town of otherwise perfect lawns. She is drawn to “the orderliness of small-town life: the mailbox at the door, and garbage cans on the curb, and everyday kindnesses, too.” As a gay woman from the more rugged terrain of the state of Washington, she takes comfort in the welcome the town gives her, but feels uneasy about feeling so comfortable as well. As a writer she knows the tidy lawn can stand for the purity she despises such as the characterization of immigrants as “invasive” and “alien,” but by nuance it can also signify the eradication of all that she deplores such as the “racism, misogyny, poverty, injustice” that keep coming back like weeds. Throughout the essay she turns over a mix of metaphors in her mind testing the notion of small-town complacency as a balm in an evil world, and even takes pride in bringing her own lawn over time into shape: “I can conform! I can belong! I can!” In the end, though, she knows can’t.  Evil demands action not metaphors and the false comfort of subtlety is, like her small-town rental, a temporary indulgence—one she eventually will reject, “nuance be damned.”

 

—THE

 

January 17, 2020

 

Faith—is the Pierless Bridge”

from “The Butterfly Nail”

in Wherever the land is

by Amy Wright

 

“A bridge without any girder is a magic carpet.”—Amy Wright

 

For years now poet and essayist Amy Wright has been writing prose translations of Emily Dickinson under the title “The Butterfly Nail.”  I first discovered them in her 2016 chapbook Wherever the land is published by MIEL books, but I have also found versions that have appeared online since 2011.  Provocative and dense in texture they are not intended to be either traditional translations or critical commentaries, but works of art in themselves.

 

“What I am working to create is not a facsimile, but another work altogether,” she explained in an interview with Sarah Escue, “an apple in itself, if one that falls not far from the tree from which it sprung.” Wright’s translations do not explain the poem, but deepen, enrich, and complicate it allowing it’s truths to cross boundaries. “I think of translation as a means of communicating across time or country or language or media potentially universal insights.” In her translations Wright explores the enormously rich interconnection between poetry and prose that has long been an interest at THE so we have stretched our usual format to feature one example this week.

 

Amy Wright is the author of two poetry books, one poetry collaboration, and six chapbooks, including the essay collection Think I’ll Go Eat A Worm. Most recently her essays won first place in two contests, sponsored by London Magazine and Quarterly West. Her writing appears in Georgia Review, Kenyon Review, Appalachian Heritage, Waveform: Anthology of Women Essayists, and Southern Poetry Anthology Volumes III and VI. She is also the nonfiction editor at Zone 3 magazine.

 

You can read more excerpts from The Butterfly Nail here and here, and you can read her interview with Sarah Escue here.

I will not add commentary to Wright’s translation except to point out all the work that the word “soluble”—which means both “dissolvable” and “solvable”—is doing. Language in Wright’s translation, draws on the poem but has a life of its own.

 

Poem

 

Faith—is the Pierless Bridge

Supporting what We see

Unto the Scene that We do not—

Too slender for the eye

 

It bears the Soul as bold

As it were rocked in Steel

With Arms of Steel at either side—

It joins—behind the Veil

 

To what, could We presume

The Bridge would cease to be

To Our far, vacillating Feet

A first Necessity.—Emily Dickinson

Translation

 

A bridge without any girder is a magic carpet. It defies reason, going where the mind cannot, on that furthest limb, beyond comprehension, and yet, to comprehend it—or imagine it, if one can imagine eternity, is enough.

The “Scene” one takes on faith is “slender” as the eye of a needle, narrow as the slip of one breath into the next. Saddlebags of theories would prevent entrance. The metaphor of a journey is a traditional linear one, reflective of that need to move forward, if “vacillating.” E.D. uses the metaphor ironically, dissolving the illustration upon “arrival” to make the point that the carriage leads to that moment where, were the bridge to dissolve, the priority would become apparent. The bridge never had any supports to begin with. To step onto it, the first relinquishment must be made—to count on the underbellies of bridges or one’s vision before “Necessity.” That desperate lunge from the plank of the collapsing image is the real gesture, from which the poem itself becomes the soluble walk by which a wobbler makes it.

—Amy Wright

 

January 31, 2020

from “Introduction”

in Best American Essays 2018

by Hilton Als

“He wonders why he couldn’t make a stinging rebuke against the clerk and ‘read that young man to filth.’”—THE

 

Hilton Als became a staff writer at The New Yorker in 1994 and a theatre critic in 2002. He began contributing to the magazine in 1989, writing pieces for “The Talk of the Town.”

 

His first book, The Women, was published in 1996. His most recent book, White Girls, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the winner of the Lambda Literary Award in 2014, discusses various narratives of race and gender. He won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism in 2017.

 

The Paragraph of the Week comes from the introduction he wrote for The Best American Essays of 2018. Later Als revised the essay under the title of “Revealing and Obscuring Myself on the Streets of New York” for the October 25 edition of The New Yorker making a number of small changes and dividing our Paragraph of the Week in two. I have chosen to use the original one-paragraph version. It may be less clear, and no doubt it wears out the reader, but that may be the point, and it has a raw, cumulative power missing in The New Yorker version. You can read The New Yorker version here: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/revealing-and-obscuring-myself-on-the-streets-of-new-york

The Paragraph of the Week

 

On my block there's a big store, part of a chain that sells electronic devices. I've been in the shop exactly three times—once to get a device fixed, once to buy a Christmas gift with my white German goddaughter, and once to replace a missing something to fix another device. Each time I've gone into the store, done my business, and am about to pay, I've been asked for my ID. I am not asleep to the fact that none of the other customers—usually affluent Europeans, yuppie mothers, and the like—are asked, for anything but their credit cards once they belly up to the electronic bar to make a purchase. For those of us who are not them, the exchange of capital for goods becomes a kind of sickroom: May I see your ID? The sickroom glows with blood, the blood that floods your face your neck your back as you hand over your ID instead of—what? A fuck-you? And why not a fuck-you? Because the worker who asks you for your ID is black or Hispanic and male, too, and he needs to make a living, even if it's at someone's literal and figurative expense. He can't look at you. (A side note: this is always the point in the story when you become a third-person figure. Your body can't bear it and so becomes a different body, watching as things happen but trying not to feel, despite the rush of blood to the face the neck the back. In this situation and others like it, your "I" recedes, running further and further back into the hidden world housed in the body the world hates.) He looked at you before, smiling, as you decided to purchase the shit you needed, but all of that changes when he asks, “May I see your ID?” The tone was the same as it was when he was showing you the junk you needed, friendly like, but now there's a threat: If you don't have ID, who are you other than a thieving threat? There's a bright lift to his voice: May I see your ID? Surely someone trained him to say that, just as my mother and father, respectively, showed me how important it was to despise racism and its various inevitable humiliations, and to empathize with workers who were oppressed by a corporate system that puts their head in a yoke just so they know who's boss. Who is the slain, who is the victim? Speak! So wrote Sophocles in Antigone, and maybe that's the start of the essay in my head that I can't write because of the blood pounding in it as the young man swipes my card and swipes my reason several blocks away from my home, away from Love. The transaction closed, the thing I needed now bagged, weighs heavy in my hand like evil, like shame: Why couldn't I forgo my mother's ethos and "read" that young man to filth? Because by not looking at me—May I have your ID?—he was, perhaps, frightened to discover what he would find on the other end of his learned question/inquisition: at the beginning or end of his own street, rocky with the stones of compromise, smiling all the while, the better to survive.

—Hilton Als

Commentary

 

Hilton Als makes several important moves in this long paragraph, all of them helpful if we are to understand what he calls the May I see your ID? syndrome. I’ll try to reproduce some of them here on my way to making a different point about what happens when we read his tour de force paragraph. He begins by saying that the question, not asked of whites when they buy something in the store, turns the marketplace into a sickroom for African Americans and other minorities. The blood that flows through this ward of American capitalism is the blood of humiliation and anger rushing through his body when Als buys anything and is asked to show ID. That embarrassment is followed by a furious realization, contrary to his mother’s ethos, that saying “fuck you” back would be entirely appropriate though he also realizes that the salesclerk is likely a person of color, too, who is forced to ask the question, and that the question is, in fact, bigger than the two of them—a systemic problem. The clerk can’t look at him and Als notes that this is the moment when he switches into third person seeing himself as if in someone else’s story, and the “I” recedes. The fact that the question is delivered in the same polite voice that the clerk uses to sell the products is unnerving because it reveals that the clerk is being coerced into saying it, showing the dominion of powerful owners over anyone involved in the transaction, so that both know “who’s boss.” When the clerk swipes his card, Als thinks of Antigone—the woman in Greek mythology who stood up to power—but when the transaction is done he feels mostly shame as he takes his bag. He wonders why he couldn’t make a stinging rebuke against the clerk and “‘read’ that young man to filth,” but he knows that the clerk is frightened, afraid of the possible consequences in the streets of the compromises he makes to keep his job and earn a living. In Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates describes how exhausting it is to live with this constant questioning of self and others, what a waste of precious time it is, but here, in a paragraph about buying something as simple as a Christmas gift or a cell-phone adapter, Als forces us as readers to run through the experience ourselves, bludgeoned for a paragraph by the interior barrage he lives with daily.

—THE

 
 

February 7, 2020

 

from Surfacing

by Kathleen Jamie

“What is a boon for archaeology and for the glimpse it provides of ancient pre-history points to a threat to the Inuit way of life as well as to all of civilization.”—THE on Kathleen Jamie

 

Kathleen Jamie was born in the west of Scotland. She is one of Britain's leading poets and the author of acclaimed works of non-fiction, Among Muslims (1992), Findings (2005) and Sightlines (2012). She is a Professor of Creative Writing at Stirling University. The Paragraph of the Week is from Surfacing (2019), her most recent book of nonfiction.

 

 

​The Paragraph of the Week

 

I stood on top of the clump of earth and trained the binoculars. Even so the animal was at the edge of my vision. How many miles away, I couldn't say. Now I was fixated, waiting for the moment the creature moved and revealed its nature. It could be a woman picking berries, as it was berry season. Perhaps even a bear. We had been warned against walking down that way, alone. They kept a gun at the site, just in case. I wanted this distant creature to be a bear. It was surely large enough. A bear eating berries on the tundra - how thrilling! I watched till my eyes strained. But then, after long minutes, my woman-or-bear spread two black wings and took to the air. A raven! A raven, visible as an event on the landscape. I laughed at myself. Clearly, there was work to do with scale. One had to make allowances for this extraordinary light. But then again, maybe it showed how readily, in this unfixed place, the visible shifts. Transformation is possible. A bear can become a bird. A sea can vanish, rivers change course. The past can spill out of the earth, become the present.

—Kathleen Jamie

Commentary

 

Author Kathleen Jamie takes a walk outside the remote Alaskan village of Quinhagak and sees an animal shape in the distance, but even with her binoculars she cannot identify it. It could be a woman picking berries or something more sinister—a bear, for instance. It is hard to tell in the glare. Suddenly the shape spreads wings and is transformed before her eyes into a raven. In “this unfixed place,” she realizes, “the visible shifts.” The raven is not the only shape-shifter here. The tundra riverbank near Quinhagak is eroding due to global warming, and she is there to write about archaeological workers who are extracting and preserving artifacts frozen in place for centuries before the ice softens to mud and the precious objects float into the sea. The world is an "unfixed place" we have all come to learn, and we have dangerously accelerated the cataclysm to come with our greed. Those who live in Quinhagak take deserved pride in the culture they are preserving, but what is a boon for archaeology and for the glimpse it provides of ancient pre-history indicates a threat to the Inuit way of life as well as to all of civilization. The past may surface, “spill out of the earth” and “become the present,” as Jamie suggests, but, since the earth itself is “an unfixed place,” it points to an uncertain future for us all.

—THE

 

from All I Feel Is Rivers: Dervish Essays

by Robert Vivian

 

“Reading Robert Vivian’s essay, I am at first awash in language, lost in a dizzying mix of figures of speech and a cacophony of sound, but these are ‘Dervish Essays’ after all….”

—THE

How could The Humble Essayist resist Robert Vivian’s newest book of “Dervish Essays.” Each piece is lyrical, tracing the solitary mind at work and letting it sing in words which is the kind of nonfiction THE celebrates.  Not only that, each essay is a paragraph long!

 

The Paragraph of the Week is the title piece from his newest collection, All I Feel is Rivers: Dervish Essays. Vivian is the author of four novels and two essay collections, Cold Snap as Yearning and The Least Cricket of Evening, as well as another collection of dervish essays, Immortal Soft Spoken.

The Paragraph of the Week:

 All I Feel Is Rivers

And dawn seeping over them, then slowly brighter and brighter until I am lit up by a cathedral of dust motes in the woods by another river and sheer majesty in my veins and hosanna praise my only voice. And all I feel is rivers, and all I ever wanted in clear rushing river speech which is my truest name and new rhythms and harmonies blessed by the earth and rain that blesses every branch, every leaf, my face, my eyes, my ever-newborn seeing that goes on almost forever, all I feel is rivers and the current is my life force, the current writes the poem and opens the flower, the current kisses the cold foreheads of the dead and the current makes love with the entire earth, the current walks the many miles and the current stacks the wood, weeds the garden—for all I ever feel is rivers, all I ever dreamed of becoming, the only emotion is water and it is rising up inside of me, all the rivers are converging in my heart and every fish, heron, and kingfisher, the rivers do me make and do me break, the rivers vision of paradise and all mother life in this world, holy breast and all fecundity, the birth canal of every verb, and all I feel is rivers, all I do not know and dream of is rivers in the sprawling ink and handwriting of the fields and mountains, the rivers leading me to books and far away, the rivers writing down the poems in the middle of the night and the rivers reciting them quietly like a bare hush of wind, rivers in my sweat and river in my gonads, the rivers as vast and teeming as the clouds, the stars, the river-born sentences as I take up their headwaters and all their outpourings, runoffs, I a human river, a water poem, and water pouring through your fingers, your mouth, human oxbow of the holy bend and with a pebble and a snail as brother and sister, scribes who draw letters with their whole bodies all their lives, writing into that bed of stone words that will keep washing away forever.

—Robert Vivian

Commentary:

 

 


Reading Robert Vivian’s essay, I am at first awash in language, lost in a dizzying mix of figures of speech and a cacophony of sounds, but these are “Dervish Essays” after all so a little verbal vertigo is to be expected. The first clarifying effect I cling to in this swirl of language are the repetitions of the title, that, like the face of the dervish, shows itself with each rotation, dividing the paragraph into separate whirls. The first whirl is a “hosanna” of praise to the dawn light and glittering dust motes coming off of the rivers. But the paragraph keeps spinning, and in the next whirl, as the speech flows from him, he is drawn outward—like the dervish’s billowing skirt—to accept the blessings of the earth “every branch, every leaf, my face, my eyes, my ever-newborn seeing that goes on almost forever.” And in the next whirl he realizes that the current that carries his words also runs through the rivers and, since the many are manifestations of this one force, all apparent oppositions collapse: the current that “kisses the cold foreheads of the dead” also “makes love with the entire earth.” Even his dreams of paradise are included, the next twirl of the skirt reveals. It is the spirit that makes and breaks him, the force of creation itself, “the birth canal of every verb.” And that last word, “verb,” bring us to the final whirl of his dervish skirt where we are reminded that all of this spinning has also been about writing as well, and I, his dizzy reader, realize that my first vertiginous response to the paragraph is right. It is a mistake to schematize the piece, wrong to break it down by its repetitions, because the words flow as one into and out of the world and into and out of us who read them, and, like all of the paragraph-long essays in this slim and exhilarating volume, the universe of his perceptions becomes a paradise for us all where world and word spin together forever.

—THE

 

February 21, 2020

 

from Borderline Citizen: Dispatches from the Outskirts of Nationhood

by Robin Hemley

 

“Robin Hemley…agrees with Hannah Arendt who wrote ‘I have never in my life ‘loved’ any people or collective’ and ‘I indeed love only my friends.’”—THE

 

Robin Hemley is the author of numerous books, including Invented Eden; Reply All: Stories; A Field Guide for Immersion Writing; Nola; Turning Life into Fiction; and Do-Over! He has won many awards for his writing, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and three Pushcart Prizes, as well as residencies at the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center, the Bogliasco Foundation, the Fine Arts Work in Provincetown, the MacDowell Colony, and others. The Paragraph of the Week is from his newest collection: Borderline Citizen: Dispatches from the Outskirts of Nationhood .

The Paragraph of the Week

 

What other travelers meditate on is their business, but in my case, the questions I've sought to understand, if not fully answer, are those surrounding nationalism, patriotism, and the almost universal need that people have to belong to some collective or another. I'm in agreement with Hannah Arendt when she writes, "I have never in my life 'loved' any people or collective—neither the German people, nor the French, nor the American, nor the working class or anything of that sort. I indeed love 'only' my friends and the only kind of love I know of and believe in is the love of persons?' Like Arendt, I was born without the patriot gene, at least where the loyalty is to a country or an institution. My loyalties are multiple. There are few places I have ventured that I dislike and few people I've met from whom I cannot learn something. I am the person who will gladly talk to my seatmate on a plane (in most cases). I'm interested in your beliefs as long as you don’t foist them upon me. I'm curious about what you can tell me about your blind spots and more interested in what you can tell me about my own.

—Robin Hemley

Commentary

‘You American?” a passenger sitting next to Robin Hemley on a flight to Hong Kong asked. “You patriot?” After a brief conversation, his seatmate turned on an in-flight movie, and Hemley pondered the question. He himself does not have “the patriot gene” or feel the need “to belong to some collective or another.” He agrees with Hannah Arendt who wrote “I have never in my life ‘loved’ any people or collective” and “I indeed love only my friends.” I first encountered this idea in the essay “What I Believe” written by E.M. Forster as Hitler rose to power. Against a dark backdrop of growing nationalistic fervor Forster continued to have faith in the persistence of what he called “The Beloved Republic.” Its members are not heroes or saviors or politicians but a band of true friends in “an aristocracy of the sensitive, the considerate, and the plucky.”  These people, he writes, amplifying on the idea, “are sensitive for others as well as for themselves, they are considerate without being fussy, their pluck is not swankiness but the power to endure, and they can take a joke.”  On the brink of war Forster saw such personal relationships as the last great hope of humankind. “If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend,” he declared in the shadow of the Third Reich, “I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.” Today, with the re-emergence of nationalism in America and around the world, loyalty to the collective over the individual is all too common again. To understand this sad state of affairs Hemley traveled to exclaves, enclaves, and overseas territories along the borders of countries such as India, Russia, Canada, and Cuba where cultures mix and patriotism is charged and problematic. He found his share of antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia along the way—the ugly upshot of nationalism—but he also, thank goodness, found members of The Beloved Republic whose friendships transcend national boundaries and offer hope for us all in a dangerously divided world.

—THE

 

February 28, 2020

 

from “On the Reliance of Verbs to Survive Death”

in How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences

by Sue William Silverman

 

“Of course it is preposterous, this notion of defying death by hauling memories into the present and keeping them always alive that way.”—THE

 

Sue William Silverman is a memoirist, poet, and teacher of writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She has published several books, including Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You; Love Sick: One Woman's Journey through Sexual Addiction; The Pat Boone Fan Club: My Life as a White Anglo-Saxon Jew (Nebraska, 2014); and Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir.

 

The Paragraph of the Week is from her essay “On the Reliance of Verbs to Survive Death” in her latest memoir How to Survive Death and Other Inconveniences due to be released on March 1. In the essay she visits the Atlanta office of her former psychiatrist only to find out that he has died a few days earlier. The receptionist allows her to spend a few moments in the office which she writes about here, itemizing the various ways she must collapse time in her mind to keep him alive.

The Paragraph of the Week

 

I must morph three time frames together: the "me" who I was/am when I live(d) in Georgia, when I was/am still his regular patient; the "me" who I was/am sitting on the couch two days after his death; and the "I" who I am now, at 2:34 p.m., May 13, 2015, in my home in Michigan. My responsibility here, as I discover how to survive death, is to merge selves and time frames into one present continuous moment. I must re-create the past as if it's the present: all eras coalescing into now. I refuse to consider the death of any given day. I carry each day forward with me.

 

—Sue William Silverman

Commentary

 

Of course it is preposterous, this notion of defying death by hauling memories into the present and keeping them always alive that way, and much of Sue William Silverman’s memoir is tongue-in-cheek. So in this devastatingly sad essay in a tour-de-force collection on escaping mortality, she sits in the office of her dead therapist deciding which object to steal and write about in order to keep him alive for an eternity, arguing with herself about whether she should filch his glasses or grab his Nike tennis shoes—“for all time”—and settles on a ballpoint pen which will forever bear the words “American Homecare Supply, Georgia” when she writes about it on May 13, 2015, at 2:34 p.m in her Michigan home. Yes, it is ludicrous and embarrassing, but she is also deadly serious about this little time trick along with her many other “techniques” for keeping death at bay. It is, after all, what personal essayists do, dragging the past into the present to keep it—and all of us—just this side of entirely gone.

—THE

March 13, 2020

from Heart Berries: A Memoir

by Terese Marie Mailhot

 

“I think you imagined I was sacred before you used me. My heart has an extra chamber now.”—Terese Marie Mailhot

Terese Marie Mailhot was born a First Nation Canadian from the Seabird Island Band. She graduated with an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. She served as Saturday editor at The Rumpus and was a columnist at Indian Country Today. Her work appears in West Branch, Guernica, Pacific Standard, Elle, Medium, BuzzFeed, and the Los Angeles Times. She serves as faculty at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and she’s a Tecumseh Postdoctoral Fellow at Purdue University.

Our feature—both the Paragraph of the Week and the Commentary--comes from her memoir Heart Berries  about trauma, sexual abuse, addiction, and neglect. It is also about the story of her fraught love affair with the writer Casey Gray—the “you” in these paragraphs whom she married. The two paragraphs mark off the emotional turmoil she endures in her memoir employing exactingly concise and surprising ordinary language.

Paragraph of the Week

 

You said you love to failure. I made you full and flushed. You loved me until your body failed your will. You said making love was kissing my eyelids. I kept them open once and saw you differently. You rooted against me and forced my eyes closed like little coffins. I wondered how many bitter ghosts it took to create a cold feeling in a room. My face was covered in your sweat. I was all points and sharp corners before I loved you.

—Terese Marie Mailhot

Commentary

 

I think you imagined I was sacred before you used me. My heart has an extra chamber now. I am more fragile than you know, more squaw and ornamental. I can turn my chin and pose like a figurine. I wonder how much you can know about being used? Can you wash me like a saint? From squaw, to mother with a face, and pores, and a body, and my own good history—I want my large heart, but older and safer, and clean. Can’t you wash me? Or hollow me out for good? Wash me in my own regard and pain, and let me dry out. Let me kill every ladybug and laugh when I do. Don’t leave me. I can’t bear to lose my sons, or any more of myself, or you.

—Terese Marie Mailhot

 

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