Last night, I taught my last class as a graduate instructor at the University of Minnesota. I had struggled with how to end class—how to tell them what I wanted them to know—and I told them so.
We sat in a circle as evening came on, on a lawn that had been under snow as late as last week. This is a rough transcript of the letter I read them. (feel free to share with attribution, and please note I quote from Mary Ruefle’s “Remarks on Letters.” Big debts to my teacher Charles Baxter, as well, for his good thoughts on stories.)
This is wonderful.
Mud Luscious Press shuttered its doors very suddenly and sadly just as the forty millionth fucktonsnowstorm started fucksnowing outside my window. I am grading papers and listening to a Fleetwood Mac record. I am thinking of the 3rd years in my cohort who turned in all their great thesis work today. I am fixing tiny errors and moving little stuff very quietly inside my cows before I send off my final, final edits to Magic Helicopter tonight. It’s bruising to hear Russ has lost his book on the night I feel like my chapbook is one step closer to being actually real. All I did at AWP was take drinks of whiskey and then cry happiness. I also kept saying, “I am so afraid it’s going to be taken away from me somehow.” To know that that has actually happened to another writer, much less one who I have been collaborating poems with for over a year, who has been hugely important to my poetry being any kind of smidgen of visible in this dumb, shitty world, is rib breaking.
It’s sad because MLP is one of the first presses I ever really understood as being this small press that was DOING IT, that was publishing the exciting writers they really believed could show us something about Livinglanguage with that capital L.
Go buy out the rest of MLP’s stock here. Go show them your love everywhere.
Gabe Durham’s Fun Camp was due from Mud Luscious next month. Gabe was the first writer I met at UMass. Fun Camp has been in the works as long as I’ve known him. I read an early draft of it for workshop on a spring night as clear as tonight and could feel its plot and rhythms homing true on their good, funny, tragic work. Somebody needs to pick it up. I’ve never read anything like it and I have yet to read it whole.
No one said times were good, but words
got us a long way. Some said out east,
some back east, and rightly or not we guessed
which skies they were pointed toward and which
they assumed we, too, ignored. Wonder was
at all times preferable—had you ever seen
such silent contrails? Something
in the sense of a late decade.
You could reach all the back shelves
with years to spare. Most likely
tastes were as canned as they seem now
but they were the latest we had.
Daylight held hours after the sun.
We turned off TVs. Someone had a Frisbee and
someone sparklers, and the same kids cycled past
until only their voices showed in the dark—
no sound of traffic, and I thought how it would be
if in fact everyone was where they were going.
photo: Doug Wilson, “Smog Covers Tacoma, Obscuring the Foothills Below Mount Rainier, 6/1973” | Documerica Project
I cannot say what anyone wore. Were skirts
about the knee? Was it the year of crochet
or of failed pants no matter how we belted?
I remember we had squirrels. The weed killer men
arrived while we slept. You rushed undressed
and though we were soon hidden
the way you stormed back to me I wondered
who had seen you and what they would say
if I knew who to ask. Later that week or the next
you said: where did the squirrels go?
We have the worst answers.
In the passenger seat of a Honda Civic
at dire speed over half New Jersey
I felt the weather compel our flight while NPR
considered all things except what we were thinking.
Found poetry from @nytimes_ebooks:
The devil is taking down one person per day
We would have country singers’ buses pulling up outside
Like those sign-covered casinos along the reading room
Greet visitors with a grid of the better
The question is for producing change
It also dies by that illusion
And the moxie of turning government
What remains to be stark
I still sometimes find myself spoken
Before they felt that they did
Were you because you
The lake responded exactly
duckbeater replied to your post: The file creation date on the original of the…
this was fascinating and intimidating and disorienting to see a document so worked-over! I end up just creating separate files—”Better draft w less food descriptions”—”OK draft w food back in”—etc.
I do, too—I did a comparison between the published story and first draft (which was named “The Horse Orchard,” a title I love but which ended up not fitting).
Back Bay roofs from the Hynes Convention Center
I attended five panels. Two I left early. Two I would have gladly sat through for another hour, or reconvened. Two I overslept. In a panel titled “Argumentative Fiction,” Marlon James asked why Katie Roiphe discusses only the Davids and Jonathans, and not Junot Diaz, and why she does not compare Portnoy to Yunior. Two panels that I wanted to attend were Friday morning while we shoveled snow and snow fell so fast that in the ten minutes we took to change from our shoveling clothes a quarter inch had covered my car. On the Mass Pike braking was impossible, one lane entirely snowed over. We arrived, parked underground, found the narrowness of our spot and the florist’s truck next to it hilarious.
In the matter of the wind, tonight we are all in it. Some of us are forever talking about the trouble with our hair. Some find trouble less trouble than none. I believe by spring we will miss it all. In Boston, the consultant said, I have to drive all the way and still the snow is not cleared. All the way he thinks how impressed we are by his fortitude. What impressed us was the snow. What worried us was the failure of predictions.
- 1-1.5 lbs boneless chicken thighs*
- 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1/2 teaspoon tarragon
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme (optional)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Black pepper
Preparation: Pour the olive oil in a 10-12” fry pan. Rinse the chicken, removing the fat. Dry the chicken lightly with paper towels and place in the pan, using the pieces to spread the oil thoroughly. Spread mustard over the pieces so all the top sides are well-covered. Sprinkle with pepper, thyme, and tarragon. If the tarragon is coarsely flaked, you may wish to crumble it further as you go.
Cook: on medium heat until the undersides of the chicken just begin to brown, then turn (you may wish to flip the pieces back and forth to coat all sides with the topping that comes off in the pan). Remove from the heat when both sides are lightly browned and the spilled topping has reduced to a spreadable consistency. Spread the reduction on the chicken, and serve hot, or cold on salad.
Time: 30 minutes (removing the fat is the most time-consuming step).
*I haven’t tried using tofu, but I’m guessing it’d be delicious. Chicken breasts work, too, but are best split so the centers cook fully by the time the sides brown.
rachtastic replied to your post: Grand Central Story
this excerpt is beautiful. what book is it from?
Thank you! It’s a short story I wrote for Grand Central Terminal’s centennial. I was thinking what a force of nature this incredibly engineered thing and all the stuff that’s grown up around it are, socially, and I thought about a friendship always waiting for a train.
photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images in The Atlantic
Our friendship was extremely convenient to major transportation, I said, and Vicky laughed, and immediately we had that, the line, and that we seemed to appreciate it equally, as a joke, and didn’t care that it was true. Her evening proofreading shift began at my preferred train’s departure time. So we had that, too, she said. Jostled between men in sweaty-backed shirts in a narrow bar on Forty-fourth Street, we’d hurriedly decided on an overly flowery white wine and were bent close over small glasses.
“The best kind of mistake,” she said. “Twenty minutes and it’s done.”
“How will that work, with the proofreading?” I asked.
“It’ll have to work, won’t it?” she said.
We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home,
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it,
waiting for us to name it—together
From my piece up today on The Rumpus