September 04, 2013
On a Monday morning in early March, after the annual Shrine circus has wrapped up a three-day run, James Plunkett is trying to go home. It’s cold and windy with a scent of manure in the air—the calling card of eight tigers, two bears, two camels, one elephant, and about a dozen each of horses and dogs.
September 04, 2013
“I think they take a little more courting than a regular dog,” says Colonel John Norwood, an officer at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola. “I don’t know if they’re less sociable, or if it’s just something that’s bred into the wolves.”
September 04, 2013
Call me deranged or a sad sack, but that’s what I imagined when I caught sight of him before the train entered the tunnel and a surge of ear-popping darkness threw his image against the soft agony of my own life. That’s the way I thought back then. Even a beautiful sight—a man alone on the river bearing up against the elements, daring nature—delivered to me a sense of doom.
June 04, 2015

Among my mother’s effects that I found after her death was a datebook for the year 1944: her diary. An erratic diary keeper myself, I noted the neatness of her initial entry—even lines, full loops in cursive letters, thoughtful punctuation—a common enough trait at the start of a writerly journey, all optimism and hope and clarity, before the messiness of life intrudes.

June 15, 2015

Peg’s husband Anders watches the boys smoke, says something, makes them smile, or are they grimacing a little? Has he cornered them or asked something off-color, personal—You getting any? That sort of thing. She’s heard his coarse approximations of street talk, young talk. She’s heard him ask girls, You ever been in love?

May 27, 2015

When people ask, why read short stories? I want to say: stories teach us to be noticers the way directions once taught us to be noticers. We sit down with a short story and know we’re going to get somewhere in a single sitting. The details are what will get us there.

May 22, 2015

People have gone to Texas for many reasons. In the past, people went because they were running from something, such as Johnny Law or Jerry Influenza, while others went to get rich by digging in the ground for valuable commodities, such as oil and Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. As for me, I came to Texas for a much less noble reason, which was to try to be a writer.

March 26, 2015

The most obvious thing I have in common with Charles Wright is myopia. When we were children nearsightedness was rare enough to inspire playground humor—the kids who wore glasses were “Four Eyes” or “Mr. Magoo.” Wright, seventy-nine, still wears them and is invariably photographed behind them—his eyes, unlike his poetry, giving nothing away. But if any poet has looked harder and seen  more of this world—seen it literally, tree by tree, bird by bird, moonrise by moonrise—and responded to it in verse more distinctive and indelible than Wright’s, I’m waiting to see the poetry that proves it.

May 20, 2015

Shelley and Chief burst through the trees across the pasture. It was the end of a hot day of riding at the stables near our home in Tampa. My sister had gone out there with a friend and, as usual, she was one of the last to return. Shelley would turn fifteen that summer. She never took to softball or cheerleading; she was deeply in love with horses. Our divorced parents recognized this, and Chief—a deceivingly handsome bay with some quarter horse in him—was her prize.

March 12, 2015

Early in 2014, Lewis Hyde, the author of The Gift, came to Jackson, Mississippi, to visit with others who volunteered to spend a handful of months in 1964 teaching and canvassing in the most violent province of Dixie. This was not like most reunions, for people at such events don’t normally talk about the first time they suffered police harassment or were tailed by the Klan, and they don’t screen a movie that was recently made about their experience and then discuss the ways in which the film felt authentic or not.