Karrie Higgins’ remarkable “Skeleton Key.”
CW: abuse, CSA
My father is dying.
Every week, a new emergency: a stroke, pneumonia, sepsis, C. Diff. His lungs, filled with fluid, crackle through the stethoscope bell. His muscles are wasting. He falls a lot, shreds his skin clean down to bone. When my mother escapes the apartment to run errands, he speed-dials my sister, sometimes crying, sometimes ranting about our half-brother Scott, accusing him of getting a little too close to our mom.
My sister forwards me voicemails. We are building a case for Power of Attorney.
“Scott blew it, as far as I’m concerned,” Dad says in one, his speech slurred like all the times he drunk-dialed me after I went no contact in the mid 90s.
“He can go to…
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by Sonya Huber
“The Key is to Not Panic in the Face of this Void”
The talented, skilled and disabled Sonya Huber, author of the stunning “Pain Woman Takes Your Keys,” writes about how pain affects her literary process.
Sonya Huber is the author of five books, including the essay collection Pain Woman Takes Your Keys, and Other Essays from a Nervous System. Her other books include Opa Nobody, Cover Me: A Health Insurance Memoir, The Evolution of Hillary Rodham Clinton and a textbook, The Backwards Research Guide for Writers. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Creative Nonfiction, Brevity, and other outlets. She teaches at Fairfield University and directs Fairfield’s Low-Residency MFA Program.
Happy solstice! I’ve put armfuls of Shirley poppies on the mantel in vases. Every few minutes, a red or orange petal falls, but every few petals, yet another wheels itself out into the room 5-6′ like a bird flying with wild wings. I know some plants dispense seeds this way, but I never knew any dispensed petals this way. (And no, it’s not the wind. And yes, already on the poem which imagines a roomful at once.)
author Rosellen Brown
Sometimes the only thing that helps when you are a writer is to read other writers’ takes on how this mysterious profession plays out for them. Here is a list of the columns the NY Times has published over the years. Happy reading!
I have a new essay up at The Rumpus, called “Spontaneous Combustion,” joining my other essay there called “Infarct, I Did.” This essay is about my mother’s addiction to prescription drugs and its challenges to the family. Why my mother never overdosed, considering the great number of pills she ingested, is a mystery.
Voices on Addiction is a column devoted to true personal narratives of addiction, curated by Kelly Thompson, and authored by the spectrum of individuals affected by this illness. Through these essays, interviews, and book reviews we hope—in the words of Rebecca Solnit—to break the story by breaking the status quo of addiction: the shame, stigma, and hopelessness, and the lies and myths that surround it. Sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, adult children, extended family members, spouses, friends, employers or employees, boyfriends, girlfriends, neighbors, victims of crimes, and those who’ve committed crimes as addicts, and the personnel who often serve them, nurses, doctors, social workers, therapists, prison guards, police officers, policy makers and, of course, addicts themselves: Voices on Addiction will feature your stories. Because the story of addiction impacts us all. It’s time we break it. Submit here.
It’s always thrilling to have a new essay appear. This one is with Catapult, and is about my experiences photographing dying and deceased newborns. Let me say again, to the families suffering these excruciating losses, what an honour it was to spend this time with you and your infants. It remains one of the most moving experiences of my life. I hold you in my heart. I will never forget.
The very exciting fully accessible and intersectional Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) happens this coming weekend! I couldn’t be more excited. A group of dedicated, generous folks puts this wonder together. Congrats to them, and to every participant. Bon festival, chacun!
I am not able to attend in person, alas, and will miss performing with my skilled colleagues, and meeting readers, but here is a snippet thanks to the Brampton Focus, Cheryl Costello and FOLD:
Counting Down The FOLD: Jane Eaton Hamilton, an interview…
This great piece from The Sun today, compliments of Tanis MacDonald: a place where I am luckily twice-published. Read it, enjoy it, weep, fall in love with the work of Lucie Britsch.
photo: Jane Eaton Hamilton kanzen cherry 2015
I go outdoors into the corridors of plum and cherry blossoms, the florid wisterias with their dangling racemes, their whips you must cut back three times a season or they will eat your cat, your car, your house. Here on the street the magnolias lift their cups waiting for spring to pour itself down. I know what’s in there. I know they have crowns, Kinder egg treats, their surprises, their jesters’ hats with dangling gold bells. The air is tinted with scent of hyacinths: Carnegie, City of Harlem, China Pink, Woodstock. They grow ceraceous, stiff along their water-filled stalks, blossoms further apart or closer together depending on light conditions—in my garden with its parsimonious sunshine, they can only try hard, but they give off their kick of perfume, they string it out, they let me have it anyway. Spring is soft as cotton batten, and some moments it goes gaudy as a circus. Watch the chestnut leaf unfurl. Watch the Clematis coil around the stem. Watch the talented beak of the finch as it cracks a sunflower seed. Watch the spotted towhee peck, the variegated thrush as it hurries to hide itself. The sempiternitous sky carves its bowl of the possibilities up beyond the clouds where rockets shoot, where astronauts imagine, where Sally Ride rode her lesbianism into blue space, where Christa McAuliffe exploded when I still lived in the house with the climbing tree.
I kick off my shoes, pull at my socks. The crust of the earth is chilled under my feet, dark, but the wet flock of grass stalks, the brush-cut of green against my toes is a party, takes me into the scrum of childhood when lawns were made for kick-the-can and there was no Round-Up and the measure of a good summer was whether you got enough callouses that you could walk across sharp pebbles and how big a cannonball splash you could make. I spill my hand over a Kanzan cherry trunk, bark rigid and broken. I unwrap the perianth, the floral envelope. A whole bough is Kyoto in April, the Philosopher’s Path, the wandering maiko in their wooden shoes, pink kimonos and white faces, elaborate combs. The individual petals in my hands weigh less than air; weigh less than the eyelashes I brushed last weekend from my lover’s rose-pink cheek. The petals are translucent, pink, silky. I don’t lift my arms, but lifting my arms is what I mean, into the symphonic air.
One year, when I had greatly suffered, when my body was giving itself up, when I had lost all in the world there was to lose, except my life, and was losing that as surely as if I had a hole in my toe through which it drained, I heard a woman playing, on violin, Bach’s Violin Concerto No 1 in A minor, and I was drawn by the threads of music like a rat behind the Pied Piper of Hamelin, and I sank to a bench to listen, and was contrapuntally struck. Terror, relief. Pain, pleasure. Hatred, love. Sour, sweet. The labyrinth we all unwittingly walk, where everything horrible is eventually overwritten by beauty. Everything beautiful is eventually overwritten by horror. And repeat. I know this as a simple truth. This is ever reliable.
I was for the first time in a year of fear not trembling.
Instead of writing the composition, the way as a writer I was prone to do, or capturing the composition the way as a photographer and painter I was prone to do, somehow I became the composition indivisibly and then, just as mysteriously, I melded with air and breeze. I was still me, old and challenged and broken, and not me, too. I was as much the musician as I was her audience. The violinist drew her bow under an ornamental plum tree, white-blossomed, through which sunlight dappled and sky showed cerulean, and all of these things merged—Bach, the poise of her wrist, how hard she had worked to stand under this blossoming Vancouver tree on this too-cold spring day, the sunshine, my own sorrow and grief and sour-hearted blood mechanics—and I was saved. I had not been able to live, and now, via this merging of talent and music and blossom and chill, I could, again. Happiness filled me as if the hole in my foot had healed and instead had become a hole in my head, and the filling was as complete as the emptying. Where I had been but a shell, I plumped. My corpuscles danced. My mitochondria laughed.
A couple weeks ago, a friend hurt herself badly. Yesterday, there was a terrible home invasion, a harsh injury, on a street where I love people. Yesterday a friend wrote to say that even so people save themselves with minute beauty. I knew she was right. I have done this over and over and over again through my life, redemption (if you like, though I might call it retrieval, or restitution) through the communion wafer of nature, through the holy drink that is nature. People save themselves on buttercups under chins to say if they like butter. People save themselves with raccoon kits, bees’ wings, and bird babies in the eaves. These accidental evolutionary goodnesses. People save themselves with kittens, and lambs pronging in fields, and the slap of a horse’s mane on their hands as they ride barebacked through meadows. People save themselves with good cups of coffee or food. People save themselves with tickles, with hand holding, just by meeting someone’s eyes. People save themselves with hikes or bicyling or long runs. These spices of experience. Fragments of mercy.
I am as dunderheaded as a person could be, but, yet, even so, even despite my flaws and weaknesses and losses, this reliable lift I feel because of the intricacy of a poppy unfolding crumpled petals, is there, is real, is find-able, is replicable, is mine for the looking. You won’t find it where I find it, because we are not the same person, but someday when the intricacy of terror and ruination lift, you will find it all the same–in a child’s giggle, a moon shadow, or in the way birch bark curls.
It is yours.
I’m delighted to be longlisted for the:
2018 Jacob Zilber Prize for Short Fiction
Thanks, Prism! Congrats, longlist!
In no particular order:
A Girl’s Guide to the End of the World by Elle Wild (Bowen Island, BC)
Baptism of Alleluia Gomez by Michael Mendonez (Pemberton, NJ)
North Coast, Late Sixties, with Soundtrack by Jane Kinegal (Vancouver, BC)
Bodies in Trouble by Diane Carley (St John’s, NL)
She Figures That by Rachael Lesosky (Victoria, BC)
Sisters on a Quest by Mi-Kyung Shin (New York, NY)
Hawthorne Yellow Lisa Alward (Fredericton, NB)
Pooka by Angelique Lalonde (Hazelton, BC)
Ursa Minor by Quinn Mason (Montreal, QC)
Whiteout January by Jessica Waite (Calgary, AB)
Chosen by Marilyn Abildskov (Emeryville, CA)
Potlatch Returns to Wazhashk Creek by D.A. Lockhart (Windsor, ON)
Catch by Jennifer Dickieson (Vancouver, BC)
A Wager by Gord Grisenthwaite (Kingsville, ON)
The Gravity of Rocks by Jane Eaton Hamilton (Salt Spring, BC)
Today ‘Weekend’ was long shortlisted for the ReLit Awards. Congrats also to Ashley Little for Niagara Motel, also through Arsenal Pulp, and the other finalists in the three categories of novel, short fiction and poetry.
Poet Wendy Xu over at Lit Hub and this passage about learning to parse literature:
“My father was my first poetry teacher in all of these ways—he paused to let us wonder together at the power of words. Why was this part so vivid and easy to picture in your head? Why did you cry at this part? Why did you fall in love with this phrase and repeat it over and over? Back then I was just happy to be spending time with my father, but the gift he gave me will last a lifetime.”
I can’t get it out of my head how helpful this training would be for a child who would later become a poet.
“Xu is the author of Phrasis (Fence, 2017, winner of the Ottoline Prize), and You Are Not Dead (Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2013). The recipient of a 2014 Ruth Lilly Fellowship, her poetry has appeared in The Best American Poetry, Boston Review, Poetry, A Public Space, and elsewhere, with fiction and essays appearing in BOMB and BuzzFeed. Born in Shandong, China, in 1987, she currently teaches in the Creative Writing MFA Program at Columbia University, and is poetry editor for Hyperallergic.”
Her poem, Notes for an Opening, is here.
The interview with her from which I pulled this quote is here.
Ah, but we have a smart and sharp bunch to celebrate over at Many Gendered Mothers, where we publish essays on writers’ mentors. Today Rose Cullis writes on finding and admiring Maggie Nelson’s The Argonauts and feeling “…as I read it, I felt a shift in that place where the meanings are.” There is no more you could ask from someone’s work, is there?
Please join us and send us 800 words about your lit hero. We especially welcome submissions from and about marginalized authors.
The Garden Getting Going
Cutworms have decimated the sprouts of the daylilies; slugs have been rolling out placemats on my ligularia, forks and knives in hand. Yesterday, I tucked some last-leg plants that have been crying out for root-room into my new garden. I don’t even know if the delphinium, given to me by garden-witch Tekla Deverell on Pender Island, now deceased, can possibly make it. I’ll baby it along, thinking mauve/blue thoughts at it, but what if, as the sun rises higher in the sky, the garden still gets no sun?
All over town the cherry blossoms are out and it’s hard not to believe they are hollering celebration. Is there anything else as beautiful as a magnolia in bloom? I chase blossoms like candy, up and down the good streets in Vancouver, the streets where I know there are canopies, because I have to feast on the beauty, storing it up and hiding it the way chipmunks do stashes. All the hyacinths, the muscari, the daffs, the tulips play their parts. Come winter, I’ll be pulling blossoms into a memory quilt.
A flicker came to sit on my fence a couple of days ago, but it didn’t talk to me, just sat there, orange and grey, eyeing the suet feeder which is surrounded by a cage much deeper than the flicker’s beak. I used to get them at my house, drumming on the metal hat of my garden heater.
My feeder last year was clustered with baby goldfinches for weeks running.
This year I’ve got juncos, sparrows, chickadees, finches, bushtits and even (finally, finally) hummingbirds. I’m going to try that thing where you pour syrup into your palm and see if they’ll eat out of it. Plus I’ll do sunflower seeds to see if I can entice chickadees.
Suffused with well-being that never seem to let go.