Skip to content

Archive for


I walk here, daily, along various paths and flimsy purposes. Some routes are less avoidable than others.

A few blocks from our building, north and canted, there is a crumbling car park. It seems as victimized by the plants forcing themselves upwards to dissever its foundations as by the attrition of the rain, as though it has inconveniently found itself lodged between a forest of ambitious seedings and the wet sky, two lovers whose meeting matters more than anything unfortunate enough to interfere. It is always, and beautifully, empty.

A week ago or so someone dropped a watermelon (or perhaps, confusing itself with a raindrop, a watermelon hurled itself from the sky; I admit I can only guess how its pale striated half-dome came to rest, partial and split) against one of the concrete posts approaching the sidewalk. It’s been grinning there since, a demented pink-fleshed jack-o’-lantern with two raven-pecked eyes and a broken jaw, and its crazed face has become so familiar I imagine I will miss it when it finally melts away.


Friday afternoon I found myself on taking a detour through an office building, and the contrast between the bright sun and skittering sidewalks outside and the sterile immobility inside was striking. The interior was refined, with expensive seating and an immaculately suited staff, and I was struck by the proliferation of hunched bodies, almost literally frozen by the chill of the air conditioner and the pale brightness of the overhead lights. It made me achingly and suddenly aware of my own limbs and skin–with its inadvertent gooseflesh and impulse toward the sun–and I wondered at both how easy it is to ignore the perspective of the larger self of the body, and at what is lost.

Perhaps it is because I think best when I am moving; perhaps this is my bias. Stepping inside this building, though, I could feel my mind retreat, drawing itself in from my fingers and feet to perch high and removed behind my still-adjusting eyes. I was not there for long.

My own body is not one of those with a energetic flywheel: when I am still, I am still. My own body is not the sort to reserve a jittering knee or fidgeting foot for the expenditure of motion. If it were I might not need to shift position so often, or to pace, or to stretch and curl then unfold. Still, I think there something important to changing position. To move is to move–quite literally–one’s perspective. If our bodies are frozen to one point of view, how can our minds see things otherwise? The easiest way to see the world differently is to fashion a pair of stilts, or to crawl on one’s knees. I do not know why adults so easily forget this. It is important, I think, to be in motion. It is important, I think, and at least sometimes, to move.




I do not remember not knowing that pork came from the muscles of once-squealing pigs, nor milk from the finger-nippled white-flocked udders of certain patient cows, nor berries from thorned plants nor cabbages from wormy soil nor apples from gnarled and giving trees, nor eggs from the mysterious insides of startled broody chickens. Food, for me, has always and first been alive.

When I was a little girl we lived in what today would be called a rural environment; then, though, it was just the country, or, perhaps more accurately, the woods. Pigs were things to be slaughtered; deer hunted; cows milked; geese–I learned, after one or two terrifying and vicious attacks–avoided at all costs. This was life, and this was death, and they, together, were the world.

We did not stay there, though, and the comfortable logic of that existence shattered against the diamond-hard and diamond-pretty surfaces of ever-growing and ever-new cities.

(I remember, as a teenager–gawky and quiet and watchful and trying valiantly to adapt to a more civilized view of things–meeting a woman who told me, upon learning of my childhood, that her husband was a hunter. “I won’t eat the deer he shoots, though,” she told me, aloof and proud. “I refuse to. He brings them back whole, with their dark eyes and little hooves and soft fur… It breaks my heart. I could never eat them.” Chagrined, I remember asking her whether she’d been a vegetarian before they married. Her forehead rebuked my inquiry. “Vegetarian? I’m not one of those. I eat meat. I just don’t like thinking about it as an animal.” I do not remember what I said in response. I remember struggling to understand.)

These days, however and at last, the city is home. I love its muted and crueler wildness, and I love its harsh and blunted nature, and I love perhaps most of all the feeling of being both anonymous and enthronged. Still, although humanity is immediate–it is impossible to escape here the rush and pull of the pace and needs and hungers of other human beings–nourishment is abstract. Food is bought, not killed; food is ordered, not slaughtered; food is separate from whatever uncanny force once animated it and made it grow. I love the crush of humanity, and yet I miss this othered immediacy.

I have been using rabbit to comfort me. I bring home at least one every week, and sometimes more. Rabbit! We’re having rabbit tonight!

Is this strange? I love the taste of rabbit meat, which is unlike anything I know, but I love, as much, that rabbits must be bought whole, and need to be dissected before cooking. Rabbit, for me, is a reminder of the real. (Or this, at least, is how I excuse my increasing compulsivity.)

Preparing rabbit is a lesson in the beauty of biology: it demands awareness of bone and tendon and limb; it demands setting aside the soft and delicious chestnut of its little dark red rabbit heart; it demands positioning a small and undeniable body one final time before dinner. Preparing the animal–at least for me–settles a certain unease. I have held it in my hands, I tell myself. I can eat it now.

Ah, me. Perhaps I just long to be close to things. Perhaps this is the burden of all those stuck in between.


I spent yesterday in the company of one of my closest childhood friends.

S, today, is a journalist and editor. She lives in a bright mote of a town in Western Colorado, and had been invited here for a professional event. She had flown in early and had a few hours before her first obligation, and we arranged–in voices breathless with laughter and expectation–to meet for lunch at a restaurant near her hotel.

I had not seen her in years.

I had not seen her in years, and it was so strangely hard to see her. How is it that the mind so easily erases a decade, or more, or worse? I saw only the same shining green eyes, and the same long-limbed embrace of the world, and the same amazing and familiar smile. (S is the only person I ever knew who seemed capable of grinning with her whole body, like some sort of inverted Cheshire cat; it took less than seconds to see this hadn’t changed.) Even after a reaffirming hug, and even after a stepping back, I had a hard time shaking off the memories to see the thirty-year-old woman before me. I do not believe I’ve quite succeeded.

She was jet-lagged; I was injured and clumsy; we wandered like happy refugees from another era from her hotel lobby toward where we were to eat, and, with our fingers well-oiled by mango relish and well-spiced Indian dishes (what world is this, that something so foreign could be so near?), talk and laugh and trace our way from a fading past through the now.

I do not know the number of times S had fallen asleep in my room, nor I in hers. I do not know how many times we traded secret journals, or drawn designs on each others’ skin. I do not know how we drifted out of touch, nor why, and when we parted I did not know what promises, if any, to make.

But those details were not what I wanted to write about. What I wanted to write about was the sweetness of friendships so close they verge of family, or usurp it. (Perhaps they can only happen in childhood, when each new human connection is proportionally grand, and when guardedness and opinion means little, and when relationships are both more simple, and more overwhelming. I am not sure.) What I wanted to write was that I am not good at sustaining friendships, because solitude comes more naturally and because I cherish being alone and because, mostly, I do not like to impinge. What i wanted to write was how deeply I am grateful for those who have transgressed that guardedness, and how grateful I am, too, for those that respect it.


My grandfather was a minister.

My grandfather died ten years ago, at the end of a lake-side walk at the end of a placid July. He was young still–I have friends with older parents–and out running, on a familiar earthen tree-dappled trail: the path split, the trees whispered, and there, and suddenly, his beautiful heart gave out.

He loved the world more than anyone I’ve known since; when I think of him, it is this profound enthrallment I remember. He loved the world so purely, and I like to think he encountered something so beautiful amidst the trees that day that his heart could no longer bear it. (The better part of me does not think, but knows.)

To this day I have a hard time writing about him without crying.

But this is merely a preface to another story.

A few weeks ago, I learned from my mother that the boarding school at which he’d once taught English, and where he used to be chaplain, had some twenty years of his recorded sermons in their archives. A few weeks ago, I wrote to them to inquire about these tapes.

I’d not been expecting much: when I was in college I worked in the Archives and Special Collections of the institution’s library, and was too familiar with the stringent lending and listening policies sustained. Instead of brushing me off, though, the librarian took my address, and on Thursday I received, on a flash drive, the entirety of the HMF collection.

I plugged the small object into my computer, and, bracing myself, clicked one labeled “WH Auden.” A moment of static, and a voice–one so familiar that familiarity doesn’t quite describe it, the voice that was the voice of so many childhood stories, and the voice of the first Emily Dickinson poem I ever heard, and the voice of countless songs and lullabies and whispers–filled the air.

Excuse me,” it said, “for fussing around a bit with a tape recorder, but three days ago our daughter gave birth to a son, and someday he’ll have to explain that his grandfather was a preacher, and I would like… I would like him to hear some of the things I said. So I hope he’ll play this one day, when he’s fourteen or fifteen or sixteen.”

It is always strange when a thread from the past reaches out to embroider the present, and stranger still when the decoration is no mere accident, but done with such conscious intent. My little brother–it was he who’d then just been born–is twenty-five, now, so he’ll be listening a few years late, but if anything the impact just feels greater, and somehow both more sweet and more grand.

And the sermons are beautiful, and as radical with love and paradox and poetry as I remember so much of his attitude to be. (I am biased, but it’s true: if someone asked me today about my most cherished possession it would be these above anything.) The sermons are beautiful, but most beautiful of all was the weight of that first sentence. I would like… I would like for the world to hear some of the things you said.


Is it strange that we all experience the landscape from the same mild and unquestioned range? With rare exceptions the human perspective hovers somewhat shy of a meter above the ground. Is this strange?

I think it’s strange. The whole of our history has been writ from this suspended vantage, in varying degrees–I write from it; you, I presume, are reading with your head an accustomed distanced from the ground. Isn’t this strange?

Circumstances force this wondering. I have injured my foot, and find it easier to slide snakelike across the floor than attempt the graceless hop from room to room.

I would be lying if I said I did not find it delightful. It has been decades since I’ve felt or been so small, and I love how magisterial and grand the merest rooms appear: how towering the tables and chairs, how distant the ceiling, how angled, oddly, the walls.

The world looks different looked up to, and I love how relaxing its innocent vastness feels.