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Nonfiction

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 hall, I felt I perhaps should be prepared.

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 leaves drooping low and modest into the ruddy soil, if you could inhale clouds whirring so fast across the sky—that is what monsoon rain smells like.