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Content Categorized ‘Nonfiction’

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…

Monsoon and Peacock

What monsoon can do is give you sweetness in spite of the heavy wet. Even when it rains in Kerala, India, people still ride their colorful scooters, and some even carry a friend or a love along with them. If it is a woman behind the driver, she will sit sidesaddle, wrapped in her sari or churidar. One hand grips only the padded rim of the seat for support, the other holds a black umbrella covering herself and the driver. The thwap-thwap-thwap of raindrops the size of quarters and the scooter’s engine—the only sounds worth noticing on their damp course through the village streets. This rain is never scary, though, even during monsoon. You can tell monsoon is near when you hear a sound like someone shaking a packet of seeds in the distance. A pause—and then the roar. You know it’s coming when the butterflies—fire skippers and blue­bottles—fly in abundance over my grandmother’s cinnamon plants and suddenly vanish. A whole family of peacocks will gather up in a banyan tree, so still, as if posing for a seasonal portrait. Then the shaking sound begins. If you could smell the wind from an ecstatic, teeny bat—if you could smell banana…