In the morning the lake is dappled, full of sleepy light clinging to reeds and hiding among lily pads. I peer down and there are ten-thousand kingdoms: one is full of long arms twirling toward the water's top, another strains its fingers in ruler-straight lines, and an underwater cloud of mossy tendrils breathes as one, grows as one, should not be disturbed by a paddle. There are whole regions of shadow; down there it is cold and dark and deep. [more]
that night we lay on air
sultry as an Egyptian's exhale. [more]
My (Almost Tragic) Hail Story
Hubs and I are giddy. It is 88', and humid, the kind of humid you complain about in June, July, and August, but in May, it is all good, baby, in fact it is down right sublime. Give me more of this stuff!" I yell out at the edge of the deck--I am perched there, reveling in the sensation of sweat--and the words fly back at me atop hot, fat wind. See, along with the humidity, the 7:00 night is cooking up a whole mix of tight, angry air. Dark clouds are rising higher and higher along the south skyline. It's storm weather. [more]
Each hour the leaves switch shirtsleeves, trading for brighter, richer hues. [more]
You go to bed, the night inky black, aware that there is a field below your window full of dusty blonde grasses, dried clumps of goldenrod, scratchy patches of sepiaed clover. There is wind, so their brittle bodies rattle against each other like reluctant bones, or swish down and back up--thin, dilapidated flags of the retreating autumn. You do not consciously think of any of this. It just is, like the woods are beyond the field, hundreds of brown arms reaching into an open sky, and you rest with this image buried in your dreams. [more]
"No," I said. "Let's stay inside, by this gas fireplace and our pot of soup and our dry woolen socks and warm blankets. That wind isn't out to make friends." [more]
A Letter to My Pre-Mama Self, One Year In
First of all, yes: Emily is still your name. In the past twelve months you have become mama and mother and mum, comfortable and soft and sing-songy and milk and bread. These are complex, intricate, beautiful things. They fit around your body like a winter blanket. But you are also still Em, still girl, still woman and partner and writer and dreamer and wanderer and springbud and bonfire and hawk. Sometimes it will surprise you, this speaking of your name, this connection to the you that was you before you became Mom. You will feel awe: that that you and this you can coexist. You will ask, How? Twelve months in, I will tell you: it doesn't matter. You can figure that out later, if you still want to. Think instead of the Why. Think instead of how wide and deep and expansive you are. [more]
Two Men I Never Met
As an undergrad, I took a course called Ethnic American Literature. Being that I was 1) an English major, 2) from an ethnically homogenous small town, and 3) desperate for "culture," I was incredulous when the reading list my professor passed out that first day had no Ralph Ellison, Leslie Marmon Silko, Maxine Hong Kingston, or Toni Morrison, but was instead full of all these, as he called them, "regional writers," a mix of poets and novelists and essayists from my home state that I'd never heard of and was sure had absolutely no relevance to my life. After all, I was going to teach, and how was I supposed to do that if I wasn't introduced to the writers who'd been anthologized? [more]
Landing: Writing About Place in our Flyover State
When I went off to college, I knew about Toni Morrison and Ernest Hemingway and Harper Lee. I loved literature, so much that I wanted to both teach it and write it for the rest of my life. But it wasn’t until I took a regionally focused Ethnic American lit course two years later that I realized I’d never heard of Robert Bly and Louise Erdrich, Patricia Hampl and Joyce Sutphen, Sinclair Lewis and Paul Gruchow and Bill Holm—writers, every one, some more established, all talented and passionate, who wrote about the place I came from: Minnesota.
It was later still that I understood why: the Midwest was considered “flyover country,” a producer of literature too localized to be of much interest to those on the coasts, the locations where, I realized, the makers of literary canons and national textbooks most often reside.
When I consider my high school students now, I feel a deep need for them to not only know of these writers and be familiar with their work, but to understand the importance of place—their place, in particular. One of the best ways to stress this lesson is by studying the work of these writers, certainly. But we should also lead students to pay attention to their own backyards and then render them with their words. As writing teachers, we are consistently asking students to be more specific. So what a perfect, accessible, and potentially challenging thing it is then for us to insist, “Here. Right here. Tell me why this place matters.” [more]
This is a dicey night for breathing. Air moves. Rather, it rushes. Something cold and northerly pounds against my windowpanes like one-hundred shoulders—in flight or pursuit, I cannot tell which. Lightning flashes. Thunder booms. There is wind and rain and snapping tree branches, snapping trees, all the remaining leaves whirling up in a maddening gyre, spinning furiously to a music that hisses through what remains in the fields. I have my ear to the glass, my hand on the window latch. There are old superstitions about stolen breath, but I am curious, and too snug anyway.
For My Mother
Memory 1: The view from my child's seat on the back of your bike as you pedaled us around Lake Ripley. It was dusk in mid-summer. Children were emerging from the lake reluctantly, water dripping from their hands and chins, sand coating their feet. [more]
For My Father
You were never much of a hunter. Pheasants, yes. Squirrels and chipmunks, I suppose, when you were younger. But you never came home from a weekend away with a buck in the bed of your truck, because you never had much interest in deer opener and you owned a sedan. I imagine some people from other places can hardly conceive of a Midwestern man without a shotgun over his mantle, a closet full of blaze-orange jackets, a copy of Field and Stream next to the john. And yet when I think of you, I do see an outdoorsman. I see you paying attention to landscape, to the clouds. I see you teaching me to love the world. [more]
A Northland Spring
The thick nouns of our winter cold are soonTo disappear like shifting, soft vapor,Like morning fog that clings as close as loonsTo lake tops warmer than the April air. [more]
I am storing up green like grain, opening my eyes wide like cellar doors. Winter is coming. Days without rain or sun or growth. I am filling my soul with this landscape of thick grasses and tall weeds and burgeoning forests as if it is a coffer, as if I am building an ever-green cathedral, as if one more glance will sanctify, render this view immovable and holy, immutable even by the whitest light.
The other weekend I took a road trip to visit my grandma. To start, I drove straight west on Highway 7 for two hours, then southwest for another two. I hadn't made this particular trip by myself maybe ever, and for a while I lost myself in my college CDs, the open windows, the sunshine highlighting the tops of hills and the bellies of little crooked streams. We'd had days and days of rain, so the land was lush. [more]
Dear Military Service Member,
I have a deep need to do two things: call you by a name (Sam, Margo, Mario, Tianyi) and picture you in a specific place (West Texas, North Carolina, Afghanistan). But I'm able to do neither. You are someone I don't know, someone in some where I have probably never been. But I feel the reality of your life just as sure as I feel these keys under my fingers, and it's a bit miraculous to understand that what I'm about to say will reach you, whatever letters it takes to make up your name. [more]
The Winter It Didn't Snow
The winter it didn't snow,I lost two pairs of slippers.I stood in steaming showers.I left the blinds broke-open after dark. [more]
Your husband is sleeping. You hear his deep, regular breaths, feel the warmth of his fingers next to yours under the blankets. You do not have to look to know the contours of his face at rest in the dark.
You turn onto your side, pull your knees up closer to your chest. Flex your toes.
When you get up, you do so quietly, so as not to wake him, and tiptoe out, stepping into the cold of other rooms. You check your phone: 3:07 a.m. For a while you stand at the window, listening to the wind, watching it move the shadowed branches in the grove, thinking. When you pad back through the house--eyes heavy now, decisions put off until morning--the stove clock blinks 2:36, and you accept this like any dream's incongruence. It is only later, that morning, that the two of you realize it is Daylight Savings, and that you were awake in the strange moments when in some parts of the house it was one hour and in others it was sixty minutes before. You wonder how you managed to float so easily between them. [more]
Hill People: On Lanesboro and Love
In the morning we drive. It's hot and sticky, something I mind only in a vague way--it's just the world working--but because it's my husband beside me, and as he's reminded me a thousand times, he can't take his skin off, we have the air conditioner on, the windows up, the changing landscapes passing us by in glimpses and sun-soaked blurry scenes. We're smiling, singing old high school songs. [more]