ON EARTH WE’RE BRIEFLY GORGEOUS, by Ocean Vuong, is an incandescent, devastating novel/prose poem. Written as a letter from Little Dog to his mother, a letter she cannot read because she’s illiterate, the story explores language, family, identity, and what it means to be seen.
Little Dog’s mother, Rose (Hồng in Vietnamese), left school at five when a napalm bomb destroyed her school. At nineteen, having worked as a prostitute to feed herself, and pregnant with another man’s child, she married a US serviceman. She named her son Little Dog, hoping to trick evil spirits into overlooking something insignificant and of little value. His name, like language, like the novel itself, became a screen to both protect and reveal.
SILVER SPARROW, by Tayari Jones, is a complex, superbly written novel with no easy answers. Jones has created flawed, believable characters who struggle with difficult moral issues of family and loyalty even as the consequences of their choices unravel with painful inevitability. The voice is mesmerizing—deceptively simple, richly nuanced, and true to itself.
Dana Yarbor and Chaurisse Witherspoon have different mothers and the same father. Their father is married to both of their mothers. Dana knows this, but Chaurisse does not. Her father, James Witherspoon, is terrified that Chaurisse and her mother, Laverne, will find out about Dana and her mother, Gwendolyn. Only someone with Jones’ mastery and sensitivity could tell this story in ways that enlarge rather than narrow our understanding of what it is to be human.
HOW TO SET YOURSELF ON FIRE, by Julia Dixon Evans, is a quirky story in the vein of Ottessa Moshfegh’s MY YEAR OF REST AND RELAXATION, only sweeter.
Sheila, 35, is a mess. She can’t hold down a job, she barely sleeps, and when she does it’s often on the stoop of her run-down rental in LA. Vinnie, her slovenly but fleetingly charming neighbor, lives across the cement courtyard, their apartments so close Sheila can hear Vinnie’s Skype conversations with his ex-wife and 12-year old daughter, Torrey, as if Sheila is in the room with them. Their physical surroundings reflect Vinnie and Sheila’s relationship—distant, wary, weirdly intimate.
In memory of the upcoming tenth anniversary of my father's death, I thought I'd take a moment to remember the poet Richard Moore, 1927-2009.
During the last months of his life, Richard wrote the following fragment. What better person to share his accomplishments than himself.
"Throughout a long life, Richard Moore has won through to the belief that the only real reward in the art of writing is the writing itself. The first of his nineteen books was published and nominated for a Pulitzer Prize when he was forty-four. The books that followed have brought the total to a novel, a book of literary essays, translations of a Greek tragedy and a Roman comedy and fifteen books of poetry, which include a sequence of fifty-eight Petrarchian sonnets, an epic of American history and an epic whose hero is a mouse born and raised in a sewer."
A pilot in the Air Force, a university professor, a poet and fierce seeker of truth, to me he was my father. I loved and admired him deeply. Ours was a complicated relationship, one that has found its way into a number of stories over the years. I've reprinted the short memoir I wrote for a tribute issue of Light Quarterly published shortly after Richard's death.
This past weekend I had the privilege of participating in the USTA Eastern 18+ Sectionals in Schenectady, NY with an awesome group of women. Every member of our team played with grit, heart and amazing support for one another in a tournament that was about so much more than winning or losing. It was about supporting one another as we faced tough decisions and showed up with fierce determination, fairness and generosity for our team, our fellow competitors and ourselves.
I’ve been busy scribbling away, writing the last chapters of Traveling Light, when I knew it couldn’t wait any longer. I had to visit the horses!
I drove up to Montrose, NY on a drizzly Tuesday to visit my friend Will, his wife Beth, and their menagerie of chickens, horses, dogs, birds and soon goats. When I turned off the highway I passed rolling hills covered in apple orchards, the stunted trees like coral in a desiccated ocean sky. Now, two weeks later, I’m sure the trees are bursting in bloom.
I pulled into the driveway of Will and Beth’s charming farmhouse to find Will deshedding his quarter horse with long strokes of a metal curry comb, flaxen tufts of Merlin’s winter coat lifting in the breeze like milkweed pods. Over the next couple hours Merlin and I became acquainted as he looked at me with his wise, gentle eyes and let me bury my fingers in his mane. I pressed my nose to his side and breathed in the smell of hay and wind and soil. Merlin, apparently, likes to roll around in the dirt. When I held out my hand, he delicately plucked radishes from my palm, the satisfied crunch of his chewing reverberating from deep in his skull. Horses, Will told me, have two sets of teeth. Out in the pasture, I learned about a horse’s different gaits, and how a sound they can’t see, like dried leaves rattling over the grass, can spook them. It was a wonderful visit, and I was grateful to Will and Beth for their generosity.
Best of all, when I got home from my adventure June was ready for her big riding scene! She returned to discover…Whoops. No spoilers;-)
Now, back to the garret…