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Content Categorized ‘Nonfiction’

Legs

Indeed he seemed to approach the grave as a hyperbolic curve approaches a straight line—less directly as he got nearer, till it was doubtful he would ever reach it at all. —Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd   My father had been dead about ten months when, in fall 2012, I called his prosthetics company and explained that I wanted to donate his legs to an organization that could reuse them. The lady on the phone was flummoxed. Maybe I could try a church, or the Veteran’s Administration? The VA receptionist put me on hold. The song: “Another One Bites the Dust.” I was hoping the next one would be “She’s Got Legs” when the receptionist came back on and gave me a number for the donations department. I hung up and called the new number, but they couldn’t help either. Had I not inherited from my mother a strain of doggedness that regards frustration as fuel and obstacles as things to be smashed, I might have chucked the legs in the trash. Instead, I searched online and found Physicians for Peace, a group that accepts donated prostheses—which cannot be reused in the litigious United States—and sends them to…

Canto for Angels

Name one angel who isn’t strange, and a stranger. A stranger came to Mary and introduced her to her own body, announced what it was bound to do. From then on, angels wouldn’t give her a moment’s peace. There’s no getting away from that dark-alley snowflake of an angel. No two alike. Yours is, after all, all yours. It’s a surprise every time you need saving—so much saving, to offset the hubris and jockeying. So much human still underneath the wings. In high school, my sweetest, dearest friend—I’ll call her Cindy—was the first person I knew who believed in angels. Long before mass-produced Hallmark angels decorated our lives every day, all year, Cindy said she felt her guardian angel watching over her all the time. But there was not room for nearly enough angels, balancing side by side on the head of a pin. Or a nail. Or a railroad spike. Each angel would have to be a black-eyed nonconformist. Flawed and failing. Look around and know that angels are fallible, culpable. Each one envying the other’s trumpet. That maligned Angel of Death, will we know him when we see him? Perhaps he is no he after all, but your…

Fake IDs

Remembering the young victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting, a poet recalls the support that New York’s LGBTQ communities offered her in growing up and coming out.

Carry

I. In the memorial garden, my colleague Michael Heffernan bends to tend some short, once-green plants that, to my untrained eyes, remain mysterious. He is quiet and pours the water with care. He is so quiet. In this, the first week of classes, my first on this campus, I don’t yet know Michael well, but already I know quiet to be, for him, the most unnatural of states. The moment before, I was sitting in my office near his in our building, Kimpel Hall, and he was trying to exit the door next to my office, his hands filled with water glasses. I said, “Thirsty?” And he said, “Do you know about the garden?” When I shook my head, he nodded toward the window, to a grassy patch, and I had work to do, new names to memorize, grading to finish already. Another colleague had just been in my office too, talking about a female graduate student, describing her as “a bag of snakes.” At first, I’d misunderstood. “She has a bag of snakes?” I said. “In the building?” On the topic of snakes, I’m surprisingly neutral. But if this student kept her snakes, say, in her office down the…

A House in Karachi

It sits on a hill—a fact that does not, in most places, distinguish a house as anything beyond ordinary. But it does in Karachi, which is in large part a flat city, squat and sprawling and a bit surly on…

Witness Tree

1. Suppose I start with a tree. It’s an old tree, tagged with neighborhood graffiti, wide as a linebacker. It’s where we met to sing hymns and pray before heading out into the night to find homeless people and sex workers,

Wind

When lightning hits water, the electricity spreads outward across the surface. The mast of our boat was a problem much the way a lone tree is: with its tendrils of positive charge, it called to the polarized clouds, literally reaching…