Sketches of Tennessee.
From the time I was about ten years old, my mother and I put in our time by visiting with Irma for an hour or two every day. We’d bring her the Enquirer and Star and try to cheer her up by pointing out the most salacious stories and the home remedies for arthritis. Sometimes she’d enlist me to rub her back, and I’d perch monkeylike on the back of the couch, kneading her knots as she growled, “I could hug yer neck fer that.”
Right after my ninth birthday, Daddy had a tantrum that made him punch a hole in the wall, his right hand break, and his secretary walk out. That made him punch the wall with his left hand and break that one too, and that was how I ended up Daddy's secretary summer before fourth grade. We worked from home, in an office that Little Steve the Child Molester built in exchange for services rendered. The office window looked out into dry yellow field, and on the far side of the field was our cow pond and Daddy's burn pile.
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.
Mother’s move to New York was just the latest of several problems I had that summer. By then there were Rebecca’s parrots, the Appropriate Behavior Rubrics at work, the increasing hostility of my downstairs neighbor, and the small, strange problem of Maurice.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2018 issue.
I’d often thought of going to Cuba, but in the summer of 2017 I was nearing the end of the first draft of the novel, and it became clear I needed to visit the island for research, to see Nicaro for myself. And, though I told no one, I began to dream of the events that might lead to my family’s reconciliation, a fantasy in which I was the hero.
A feature short story from the Fall 2019 issue.
The godmother is like an ancestor who never really left. Someone who’s here even when they’re not. The godmother is what happens when somebody asks your name and you suddenly can’t remember. When it’s gorgeous outside and you work up the nerve to be part of something but not enough nerve to brush your hair, that’s the godmother. Maybe you stay up too late and are tempted to give yourself completely to unrequited obsessions. That’s the godmother’s doing, too.
A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.
Funk can be a sense of place, transmigratory memories filtered through the nose. For George Clinton, the smell of pig shit crosses state lines. “I remember feeding them pigs. I was knee deep in pig shit. Cosmic pig slop. That’s why you make the same face when something smells. Funk tickles the same muscle. That Southern vapor. Up in there with the biscuits and bacon. Your mother cooking with that iron stove, especially on Sunday morning. That was that same good smell that make you frown like you hear that funky blues.”
A feature essay from the South Carolina Music Issue.
The thing that they do, I hesitate to say that you have to be there, but—there is an intimacy and devilment to their live performance, a lift and crash, that has been hard to capture on record. So that their art, like the lives they have carved out for themselves, is a thing on the move, uncatchable as a storm. Home and the road and home on the road.