At nineteen, I imagined living alone as a luxurious dream waiting in the distance after college—all the dishes would be mine, all the space mine. Instead, I feel alone and infested. I return one night and yank on the pull-string light in the kitchen and cockroaches scatter under the fridge.
It’s midnight in Kentucky. A man sits at a desk, pecking at an ancient Apple I computer; the light’s still on in the basement. Somewhere a juke box is playing “A Feather’s Not A Bird,” by Rosanne Cash. A glass of bourbon bounces when it hits the barroom floor.
An exerpt from The Screening Room: Family Pictures.
“Did you know how your grandfather M.A.’s heart attack really happened?” Lennie says to me, smiling slyly and sipping her bourbon. “What do you mean?” “Exertion, bien sur. The best kind. And not with your grandmother.” Lennie lights a new cigarette and wriggles her stocking covered toes, poised to let fly another story. Cousins nudge forward in their reclining chairs. Someone moans from the pool, the next generation, and Lennie exhales a cool cloud of blue smoke.
A conversation with Forrest Gander.
Love is sacred to Gander, as is longing. Vulnerability, landscape, poetry, pain—these draw his characters, and readers, to the edge of the void. His genre-bending books are driven by a powerful curiosity and hum with rich, associative thinking. At once granular and expansive, Gander writes after what he calls “our inner selves, that holy knot that gives us a hold on what we actually feel,” with the conviction that nothing less than life is at stake.
What will happen when humanity pushes itself to the brink of extinction? That’s the question posed by Corey George in “Alas, Babylon,” a series of photographs documenting Florida’s vast underpopulated suburbs. Slowly yet relentlessly, nature is reclaiming places like Lehigh Acres, with its 100,000 empty lots and 10,000 miles of unused roads. “One day,” George says, “these roads will be gone, and this land will go back to being Florida scrubland and forest.”
When I first opened the cassette there were no titles on the insert or cassette itself, just stick figures drawn in assorted contortions and obscene poses. I put the cassette in my tape deck and pressed play. A low slow voice growled, “Oh My God!” to a caveman-like stomp of drums and bass that almost blew up my speakers. A high-pitched, hard wavering guitar weaved a line of notes as I strained to hear what else the voice was saying; something like, “What do you know about reality? I AM REALITY! What do you know about death? I AM DEATH!” This song, the first track from the album Hairway To Steven, went on for twelve minutes. I was nineteen years old, and that was the first Butthole Surfers I ever bought.
In a place where we have few trees and a lot of wind, I’ll risk it and go out on a limb to say that Texas may be a part of the New South. Texas doesn’t believe that, but still, there’s a common bond. Almost. I think it was Leon Stokesbury who I first heard define the Southern poem. He thought such a poem likely included a big dose of heartbreak and comic sensibility featuring family, landscape, and religion in varying degrees and combination. I hear these same quirky, dusty, open-sky, heartfelt mixtures in the songs of Townes Van Zandt, Lyle Lovett, the Dixie Chicks (don’t judge), and more recently, Amanda Shires.