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.
Cattle rustling, signature crime of the Old West, has returned to Texas. “These days, we got more rustlers than you can say grace over,” Ranger Wayne Goodman told me. “It used to be you didn’t catch a rustler that didn’t know cattle, or at least have some kind of agriculture in their background. Now, what with the drought, it doesn’t take much skill. Cows are so thirsty you can lead them into a trailer with just a bucket of water.”
A feature essay from the Spring 2019 issue.
As in all cities, the story of displacement and discrimination is as old as the municipality’s. And while it might seem like a somewhat ahistorical cheap shot to draw a direct, incriminating line from Spindletop’s boom to the swath of corporations that now dominates Houston and its high-risk neighborhoods, the residue of truth is there. Houston, like every other metropolis, abets the long history of industry-induced subjugation that manifests, visibly and invisibly, as endemic environmental racism. It’s written into the city’s code, embedded from day one in the place’s naïve aspirations of itself.
A Southern Journey from the Summer 2019 issue.
I am journeying north. I want to see the infinite yellow flat of the Texas panhandle. Stables and barns. The dipping heads of pumpjacks. Enough to situate a fictional ranch along the Caprock Escarpment, a location I need to depict for a novel-in-progress. My mother’s family comes from the region, but I’ve never been there. My plan is to drive the seven hours north from Austin to Palo Duro Canyon, where I’ll camp for the night. Often, a single detail will bring a scene into clarity, and I’m off to find it.
By early summer, Houston is so muggy that all the edges blur. Temperatures slink into the low 90s and stay there. In certain neighborhoods, the smell of weed lingers, lending the air a permanent tang. Slabs, creeping slowly down the street, broadcast a sound indigenous to the city, a sluggish hazy rhythm that couldn’t have been born in any other town.